I've been putting off writing about this book because it was so good. Everything I thought to say about it seemed trite, or over-simplified. This is a beautiful book. It has pure, elegant prose, a haunting story, powerful imagery and fully human characters.
Like many of McDermott's books, it take place in New York in the 1950's and 1960's and features a large Catholic family. McDermott captures the times and situations so well, and mixes the larger events and issues of the time (the New York World's Fair, the Vietnam war, the legalization of abortion, the role of the Church) with the tiny realities of family relationships.
McDermott uses a powerful "show, don't tell" approach. We move through various scenes in the life of this family with little background information to help us figure out where and what we're seeing. We must deduce from the surroundings and events when and where the scene is taking place. In the beginning of the book, a war has recently ended, and a couple meets. In the next chapter the couple has married, and in the next, has three children. Eventually we learn the fate of all the characters; some thrive and others do not. This book contains great sadness but also much hope. It's the best thing I've read so far this year.
(Book 13, 2007)