Picking books based on their looks
An ordinary life told as an extraordinary tale, “Someone” by Alice McDermott is quietly enthralling and vividly intimate.
The story starts at the stoop of a quaint neighborhood home in Brooklyn, New York, where Marie sits and waits for her father’s arrival at the end of every day.
There, she sits quietly, not interacting with the other kids playing stick ball in the street, but instead has a brief conversation with the poor, ugly woman that lives in the same building, Ms. Pegeen Chebab.
Pegeen is described as a homely looking woman, yet to find a husband because of her looks and clumsiness. This clumsiness would ultimately take her life when she unfortunately falls down a flight of stairs.
The death of Pegeen is the first experience Marie will have with death, and unfortunately it’s not her last.
“Someone” is beautifully written and completely immersed me into the ordinary life of Marie, beginning with her childhood in the late 1940s.
Throughout the book, you are left to devise your own image of Marie because she is never definitively described, except for her small stature and thick glasses. If not for those glasses, she is nearly blind.
Marie’s first heartbreak was brought on by the untimely death of her beloved father after a fight with cancer.
She experiences her second heartbreak with Walter Hartnett, a man born with a leg too short.
Walter talked of marriage and children with Marie, so when he took her out for lunch one day, I was just as shocked as Marie when it was revealed that he was leaving for the weekend to marry someone else.
Sadly, Marie sobs all the way home, where her brother, Gabe, would help heal her broken heart with a walk.
On their stroll, they run into Tom Commeford, who awkwardly addresses Gabe as “Father,” despite never finishing his ordainment. Despite the mistake, they have a polite conversation.
Marie and Tom would not see each other again until the funeral of Old Bill Corrigan — the blind umpire to the children’s neighborhood baseball games during Marie’s childhood.
Strangely enough, the death of Old Bill would bring together Marie and Tom into a relationship they never saw coming.
Constantly feeling unloved, Tom makes Marie feel special, and soon enough they are married with their first child on the way.
It is never revealed what may be handicapping Marie. With her blindness, hypersensitivity to touch at a young age and “child-like build,” I came to the conclusion that she had been born prematurely.
The birth of their first child, little Tommy, nearly kills Marie, and she is advised to not have any more children by her brutish, post-war general doctor.
Despite this and the warnings from her mother and brother, she and Tom go on to have three more children — Johnny, Susan and Helen.
The lack of detail in “Someone” can be frustrating, but the writing style of McDermott is charming, and it perfectly embodies just the right amount of emotion to tell the story as Marie would have.
The story ends circuitously, with the proclamation from Pegeen Chebab that were her last words to Marie at the start of the book in which she would attempt to use her clumsiness to find “someone nice.”