Set in early 20th century Brooklyn, McDermott's latest novel tells a story of the work of the Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor, a community of nuns who minister to the poor and the sick. It's also the story of Annie, whose husband commits suicide in the first chapter, and her daughter Sally, who grows up as a child of the convent. It's a story of practical Catholicism as lived by nuns who serve, whose religious fervor is bolstered by their proximity to suffering, and who can look the other way at times when they see sinful behavior. As a young woman, Sally struggles with her own vocation under the conflicting influences in her life. From the first pages of this lovely novel, readers will be spellbound by the warmth and humanity of McDermott's treatment of her characters. It's a quiet and gentle story, even if the subject matter is harsh at times. Highly recommended.
October 2017 Indie Next List
“Alice McDermott's dazzling The Ninth Hour turns on the contradictions that confound our need to reconcile with mortality. The empathetic characters, at once agents and benefactors of Christian charity, grow to realize not just the grace but also the hubris of their faith. A stunning work of generational storytelling, The Ninth Hour is compulsively readable and deeply thought-provoking. McDermott is a master artisan of humanity.”
— Lori Feathers, Interabang Books, Dallas, TX
A magnificent new novel from one of America's finest writers--a powerfully affecting story spanning the twentieth century of a widow and her daughter and the nuns who serve their Irish-American community in Brooklyn.
On a dim winter afternoon, a young Irish immigrant opens the gas taps in his Brooklyn tenement. He is determined to prove--to the subway bosses who have recently fired him, to his badgering, pregnant wife--"that the hours of his life belong to himself alone." In the aftermath of the fire that follows, Sister St. Savior, an aging nun appears, unbidden, to direct the way forward for his widow and his unborn child.
We begin deep inside Catholic Brooklyn, in the early part of the twentieth century. Decorum, superstition, and shame collude to erase the man's brief existence. Yet his suicide, although never spoken of, reverberates through many lives and over the decades testing the limits and the demands of love and sacrifice, of forgiveness and forgetfulness, even through multiple generations.
The characters we meet, from Sally, the unborn baby at the beginning of the novel, who becomes the center of the story to the nuns whose personalities we come to know and love to the neighborhood families with whose lives they are entwined, are all rendered with extraordinary sympathy and McDermott's trademark lucidity and intelligence. Alice McDermott's The Ninth Hour is a crowning achievement by one of the premiere writers at work in America today.
About the Author
Alice McDermott is the author of seven previous novels, including After This; Child of My Heart; Charming Billy, winner of the 1998 National Book Award; At Weddings and Wakes; and Someone--all published by FSG. That Night, At Weddings and Wakes, and After This were all finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. Her stories and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, and elsewhere. She is the Richard A. Macksey Professor of the Humanities at Johns Hopkins University.