After This A Novel

Alice McDermott

Farrar, Straus and Giroux




288 Pages



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Pulitzer Prize Finalist
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

Alice McDermott's new novel, After This, is a vivid portrait of the twentieth century and evokes the social, political, and spiritual upheavals of its time through the experiences of a working-class couple, John and Mary Keane, their four children, and the changes radiating through their Catholic community on Long Island.

While Michael and Annie Keane taste the alternatively intoxicating and bitter first fruits of the sexual revolution, their older, more tentative brother, Jacob, lags behind, until he finds himself on the way to Vietnam. Clare, the youngest child of their aging parents, seeks to maintain an impossible, almost saintly innocence. As John and Mary struggle to uphold the framework of their family, the four siblings are destined to experience, first-hand, the challenges and liberties born in the crucible of the 1960s.

Alive with the passions and tragedies of a determining era in our history, After This portrays the clash of traditional, faith-bound life with modern freedom while also capturing the joy, sorrow, anger, and love that underpin and undermine, what it is to be a family.


Praise for After This

"Ms. McDermott gives us an affecting meditation on the consolations and discontents of family life—the centripetal and centrifugal forces that bind husbands and wives, parents and children together and fling them ineluctably apart . . . [She] has returned to the territory she knows best: the family (specifically, the Irish middle-class family, around the 1960's). And her easy authority with this material, combined with her clear-eyed sympathy for her characters, results in a moving, old-fashioned story about longing and loss and sorrow."—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"To recount the bare outline of a single scene between a couple named John and Mary, lower middle-class parents residing in the bland-lands of suburban Long Island, is to be reminded of what an extraordinary artist Alice McDermott is . . . In the way McDermott tells their story—in her surgeon's eye for detail, in her poet's virtuosity with language, in her unrelenting ability to penetrate surfaces and explore the rich and tragic nuances of the human predicament—the everyday is transubstantiated into art and the wash-and-wear facts of a Catholic family of six…riding out the boom and gloom of America's post-World War II suburban saga is made into the stuff of literature . . . I know of no more truthful writer than Alice McDermott . . . I can't but assess and admire her transcendent capacity to capture the shares presumptions and sharp-angled perspective . . . of the urban Irish-Catholic community . . . Alice McDermott is a powerful and graceful novelist. Her abilities as a stylist and storyteller put her in the first rank of American writers, and After This will only add to that reputation . . . Her greatest gift is to make her Catholic sensibility indistinguishable from the catholicity of her literary imagination, a clement, loving, and sweet (but never saccharine) embrace of all that is human."—Peter Quinn, Commonwealth

"Insightful, moving, often poetic, and descriptive of something broader than it at first appears . . . It's a brief novel that fulfills its promise, to capture through one family the upheaval of an entire generation."—Jean Blish Siers, Charlotte Observer

"It is no secret that Alice McDermott, winner of the 1998 National Book Award for Charming Billy, is a writer of many talents, but to read her new novel, After This, is to be reminded how rare her gifts are . . . McDermott has always written relatively short novels. Again in After This there is no excess, no look-at-me pyrotechnics in her prose; with the mastery of a poet, she distills the life of the Keanes to its essence. Her method is familiar, going back and forth in time to reveal the story and the meaning bit by bit, as she peels back from the surface to the point of revelation . . . Several of McDermott's novels have a mythic quality, and this one achieves that mark most keenly . . . All her books are touched with the grace of her generous intelligence, her sly wit and her compassion for our longings, our griefs and the revelations that come only in the briefest of glimmers. The opportunities for revelation are greater because we have books such as this one, because of McDermott's quiet and sublime gift."—Jane Hamilton, The Washington Post Book World

"McDermott's preoccupations go much deeper than baby-boom artifacts, deeper even than mere history. What is it, she wonders, that holds together the loose fabric of our lives? . . . This is a daring book. McDermott lets the major events happen offstage . . . By the end of this strangely haunting novel, you're convinced that what she knows is something bigger than just New York and Long Island."—Richard Lacayo, Time

"After This demonstrates McDermott's technique at its most elliptical and effective."—Paul Gray, The New York Times Book Review

"It is hard to know how to start piling on the praise for this gripping, poignant book. It would seem there is no technique of fiction McDermott has not mastered. Like the masters, she makes it look effortless . . . The power of her language is as strong as ever . . . What a joy it is to experience subtlety, reticence and the intelligent unfolding of a real story before your eyes, as opposed to the in-your-face posturing of so many of McDermott's contemporaries, for whom style has dissipated into mannerism and strange, stereotypical character-building . . . Thank God for Alice McDermott's guts and imagination."—Conan Putnam, Chicago Tribune

"Alice McDermott's exquisite sixth novel unfolds in unhurried splendor, its pace so exacting you can feel the sting of sand in a high city wind . . . A character study of profound dimension . . . The only promise of grace that McDermott dares to make is the beauty found in rendering it."Gail Caldwell, The Boston Globe

"[Alice McDermott] sees patterns and themes that others overlook. She covers enormous ground yet never wastes a word, and brings to life a family representative of so many families in our not so distant past. It is the mark of a great novelist to make the particular universal."—Clare McHugh, The New York Sun

"Alice McDermott's fully imagined and beautifully written After This is more a collection of connected short stories or vignettes than a typical plotted novel . . . Each chapter is a gem in itself, with perfect details, dead-on dialogue and a slow, careful look into the hearts and minds of its characters."—Sarah Willis, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

"Alice McDermott writes beautiful, understated sentences so subtle and yet so packed with insight that if you blink, you might miss, say, the death of a character, or the realization by another that her grown-up life 'would not be the life she had wanted' . . . McDermott's prose is stunning . . . [Her] talent never fails to impress."—Jocelyn McClurg, USA Today

"Alice McDermott's sixth novel, After This, returns her readers to the familiar terrain of Irish American Long Island and, yet again, to the combination of qualities—compressed, poetic prose allied with an unblinking, William Trevor–ish sympathy for the muffled spiritual adventures of the most middling members of the middle classes—that have earned McDermott her high reputation (and prizes: she has a National Book Award and two Pulitzer nominations to her credit)."—Atlantic Monthly

"There is the temptation, after reading Alice McDermott, to read nothing else for the longest time—to hold every exquisite word of her most exquisite novels in your head. There is the temptation to declare that she, along with Michael Ondaatje, is the best living writer of our age. That she exercises patience, compassion and wisdom where others emphasize strut, that she trusts herself with the power of scenes over the inflated intricacies of complicated plot. There is the temptation to use the word 'genius' in association with McDermott's name, and this morning, having just completed her sixth novel, After This, I will, I do. McDermott, author of Charming Billy and At Weddings and Wakes, among other titles, is a genius, and After This is her best book."—Beth Kephart, Baltimore Sun

"So powerful, so controlled, so evocative of real human emotion that it is hard to think of a better novel that came out this year . . . Tour de force is not too strong a word for what Ms. McDermott has accomplished. A first-rate novelist at the top of her game is something to behold, a thing of beauty and a joy forever . . . and Alice McDermott is most definitely at the top of her game."—John Greenya, The Washington Times

"After This features McDermott's by now trademark combination of exquisite delicacy and rich, multiclaused sentences. There is an incantatory interiority to her prose, capable of capturing subtle emotional nuances and flickers of moral wavering. She wields it here to explore the lasting effects of the death of a son in Vietnam on each member of his family."—Heller McAlpin, Newsday

"Alice McDermott is an expert in capturing the lives of modern Irish American Catholics."—Vicki Rock, Daily American

"National Book Award winner Alice McDermott . . . restore[s] some much-needed dignity to the dwellers of subdivisions . . . [She] . . . weaves questions of faith and religious life throughout the novel . . . It's as if McDermott is helping readers pay attention to the details that matter."—Yvonne Zip, Christian Science Monitor

"McDermott's new After This is another stellar novel—gripping, moving and beautifully observed and written. The book is all the more impressive because it deals with the simplest possible subject matter, the story of a typical American family in the post-World War II years. McDermott is a magician, able to conjure a story that feels epic out of the materials of ordinary lives. Through the precise use of detail and exacting arrangement of revelation, she creates drama from events that in other writers' hands might seem mundane. McDermott's gift for underplaying the dramatic (such as a death of one of the characters) and spinning the quiet moments into grand meditations (such as a description of a long wait in an exhibit's line on a hot summer day) is what makes After This such a profound pleasure."—Jenny Schank, Rocky Mountain News

"Alice McDermott knows what she's doing: Her five previous novels, dealing with similar ordinary people and situations, have earned her critical kudos and a fistful of honors and tributes. Out of the rich soil of that old critics' cliché, the human condition, McDermott raises uncommon, and uncommonly beautiful, plants . . . With McDermott, there is always more than meets the eye."—Maude McDaniel, Bookpage

"Word by word, metaphor by metaphor, McDermott writes the most exquisitely perceptive and atmospheric fiction published today. Heir to Woolf and Nabokov, she nets the totality of human consciousness in flawlessly rendered internalized fiction shaped by bemused delight in human nature and an abiding understanding of the rule of opposites: not only do opposites attract, the opposite of what you expect is bound to happen. In her sixth and most commanding novel, National Book Award-winning McDermott continues to till her verdant fictional home ground, Irish-Catholic family life on Long Island, in an extraordinarily refined through-the-decades family saga. The story begins as Mary steps out of church on a wildly windy day at the close of World War II and hurries into a diner, never imagining as she sits at the counter that she will soon marry the stranger beside her and with him raise two sons and two daughters. As their lives unfold, every beautifully rendered occurrence resonates deeply on both personal and social planes, from a tree toppled by a hurricane to quietly hilarious classroom scenes; a premature birth, an abortion, and a high-school pregnancy; a visit to the 1964 World's Fair to see Michelangelo's Pieta; a son serving in Vietnam; and a life-changing college year abroad. Encompassing and radiant, McDermott's breathtaking novel ends as it begins with a church scene and an unexpected marriage. Astutely attuned to the spiritual consequences of a rapidly metamorphosing world and the mysteries of desire, love, faith, family, and friendship, McDermott elucidates all that changes and all that endures with wondrous specificity and plentitude of heart."—Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

"In her sixth novel, National Book Award winner McDermott continues her examination of the modern Irish American Catholic experience. Through a series of linked vignettes, this quiet story highlights events in the Keane family of Long Island over several decades. John and Mary Keane's somewhat surprising engagement in the late 1940s (both are a little past the usual marrying age) brings about an enduring union. Together, they manage to meet the challenges of raising four children on a limited income, confronting the social and religious struggles of the mid-20th century, and—hardest of all—losing to the Vietnam War the son they had named for a long-dead World War II soldier. McDermott knows this domestic milieu intimately, and her sure authorial hand illuminates the inner lives of these ordinary people in a way that resonates beyond the mundane to the broad human condition."—Starr E. Smith, Library Journal (starred review)

"A master at capturing Irish-Catholic American suburban life . . . McDermott returns for this sixth novel with the Keane family of Long Island, who get swept up in the wake of the Vietnam War . . . [McDermott] flawlessly encapsulates an era in the private moments of one family's life."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)



Read an Excerpt

Excerpted from After This by Alice McDermott. Copyright © 2006 by Alice McDermott. Published in September 2006 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.


Leaving the church, she felt the wind rise,...

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  • After This by Alice McDermott--Audiobook Excerpt

    Listen to this audiobook excerpt from Alice McDermott's novel After This, narrated by Martha Plimpton. This powerful novel wittily captures the social, political and spiritual upheavals of the mid-twentieth century through the story of a family, and the changing world in which they live. While Michael and Annie Keane taste the alternately intoxicating and bitter first fruits of the sexual revolution, their older, more tentative brother lags behind, until he finds himself on the way to Vietnam.



  • Alice McDermott

  • Alice McDermott is the author of five previous novels, including Child of My Heart; Charming Billy, winner of the 1998 National Book Award; and At Weddings and Wakes, all published by FSG. She lives with her family outside Washington, D.C.

  • Alice McDermott Epic Photography/Jamie Schoenberger




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