After This

Alice McDermott, whose gently sly 1998 novel Charming Billy won a National Book Award, stitches up another lovely needlepoint of a novel about middle-class Irish-American life. In quiet scenes set over four decades — from Mary and John Keane’s shy first meeting at a postwar Manhattan lunch counter to their older son’s departure for Vietnam — she conjures both an utterly unique clan and the familiar historical events that shaped it. She’s a canny observer of domestic dynamics, but her niftiest creation in After This is Mary’s crabby friend Pauline, a bitter, chilly, and perpetually undermining spinster lurking in the corner of every Keane family snapshot.

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