Bookmarks Issue: 

A-After ThisThere is nothing particularly notable about the Keane family. Mary and John met when she was about to resign herself to spinsterhood and he’d become accustomed to limping through life on a leg injured in World War II. The four Keane children are mostly happy and mostly healthy, but the events of the latter half of the 20th century begin to fray this tightly woven Long Island family. Jacob drops out of school, only to get drafted for Vietnam; Anne follows a lover to London; Michael is adrift in drink and narcotics; and Clare gets pregnant. Without ever drawing a strict narrative line, the series of vignettes that make up After This coalesce to spur aching emotional questions about the ties that bind.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 279 pages. $24. ISBN: 0374168091

Rocky Mountain News 4.5 of 5 Stars
"McDermott has condensed a significant swath of the 20th-century American experience into a slim, beautiful book, dispatching with efficient elegance a subject that might have moved other writers to verbosity. … McDermott is a magician, able to conjure a story that feels epic out of the materials of ordinary lives." Jenny Shank

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"We as readers become all these people: the neighbor who helps Mary deliver a baby, the nun who teaches one of the daughters about the horrors of abortion, the priest, the professor, the best friend." Sarah Willis

Minneapolis Star-Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"McDermott’s style techniques serve her well, as does her use of meticulous period detail, much of it humorous. Because she skillfully captures a slice of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, her novel will resonate with baby boomers, particularly those who attended Catholic schools." Katherine Bailey

Newsday 4 of 5 Stars
"There is an incantatory interiority to her prose, capable of capturing subtle emotional nuances and flickers of moral wavering." Heller McAlpin

Christian Science Monitor 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The book is a series of interlocking vignettes that skip years and change points of view as it traces the history of John and Mary Keane and their children from the late 1940s through the 1970s. … Quiet is the operative word for McDermott’s storytelling here; she underplays even death to haunting effect." Yvonne Zipp

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Because she is so wonderful at capturing the inner lives of her characters, the sudden switch to a minor player—such as the neighbor, schoolmate or priest—may be the book’s only frustration. The story could have been as effectively told from the perspective of each family member, period." Lisa Teasley

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"There is no sentimentality to Ms. McDermott’s portrait of the Keane family, no romanticizing of their story. … There is something dispiriting about Ms. McDermott’s portrait of the Keanes: she focuses single-mindedly on renunciation and mortality in this novel, while ignoring the possibilities of passion and hope that glimmer, fitfully, in her earlier fiction." Michiko Kakutani

NY Times Book Review 2 of 5 Stars
"This assembly of splintered stories suggests that McDermott, like Virginia Woolf in The Waves, has come to care less about her individual characters than about the unseen forces—fate, the zeitgeist, the inexorable progress of time—that shape and trace the patterns of their lives." Paul Gray

Critical Summary

The Irish Catholics of the New York region are Alice McDermott’s stock in trade, and she returns to them with a dampened yet confident flourish in her latest book. There’s less humor here than in her National Book Award–winning Charming Billy (1998), but reviewers note a more assured touch than in her previous book Child of My Heart ( 3 of 5 Stars Mar/Apr 2003). Most critics feel that McDermott’s use of narrative vignettes pays off, but a few detractors note that the compressed nature of the story provokes some confusion, both about the story and her thematic intent. In the end, though, all agree that McDermott’s phenomenal fictional gifts are on good display.