Book Club Guide—Someone, by Alice McDermott

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In Someone, a beautiful and quiet novel by masterful writer Alice McDermott, one woman narrates her life’s story. And, in the process, she tells the stories of many other people in her history as well. McDermott takes readers back to a very particular place and time: Brooklyn’s Irish-American community of the 1930s and ’40s. But the stories prove universal, as Marie Commeford reflects on old age, death, love and marriage, motherhood, and more. Serve up some Irish soda bread, and use the topics below to guide your discussion.

Parents and Children:

There are some troubled relationships between parents and children in this community. How are the children affected by their parents?

What are the most troubling parent-children bonds portrayed in the novel? And the most favorable ones?

Why doesn’t Marie want to learn to cook, despite her mother’s constant efforts to teach her?

Love and Marriage:

Compare Walter Hartnett with Tom Commeford. Is Marie better off with Tom as her husband? Why or why not?

What does Marie find attractive in Walter? And does her impression of Walter change over time?

Growing old:

Why does Marie describe old age as being on a “high, precarious ledge”?

What does Marie learn while working at Fagin’s funeral parlor?

Gaining perspective:

Many of the characters in Someone suffer from blindness or vision problems. What does this mean in the world of the novel?

Throughout her narrative, Marie is attempting to understand the lives, the motives, and the suffering of people around her. Does she reach a full understanding of the people in her life, from her brother to Walter? How?

Does Marie’s relationship with her brother, Gabe. Does it change over the course of her life?

We never know for sure why Gabe leaves the priesthood. What do you think is the reason?

Many characters deal with alcoholism. What role does alcohol addiction play here?

The term “amadan” is a refrain throughout the novel. Besides Pegeen Chehab, who are the fools in the novel?

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