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A fully realized portrait of one woman’s life in all its complexity, by National Book Award–winning author Alice McDermott

An ordinary life—its sharp pains and unexpected joys, its bursts of clarity and moments of confusion—lived by an ordinary woman: this is the subject of Someone, Alice McDermott’s extraordinary return, seven years after the publication of After This. Scattered recollections—of childhood, adolescence, motherhood, old age—come together in this transformative narrative, stitched into a vibrant whole by McDermott’s deft, lyrical voice.

Our first glimpse of Marie is as a child: a girl in glasses waiting on a Brooklyn stoop for her beloved father to come home from work. A seemingly innocuous encounter with a young woman named Pegeen sets the bittersweet tone of this remarkable novel. Pegeen describes herself as an “amadan,” a fool; indeed, soon after her chat with Marie, Pegeen tumbles down her own basement stairs. The magic of McDermott’s novel lies in how it reveals us all as fools for this or that, in one way or another.

Marie’s first heartbreak and her eventual marriage; her brother’s brief stint as a Catholic priest, subsequent loss of faith, and eventual breakdown; the Second World War; her parents’ deaths; the births and lives of Marie’s children; the changing world of her Irish-American enclave in Brooklyn—McDermott sketches all of it with sympathy and insight. This is a novel that speaks of life as it is daily lived—a crowning achievement by one of the finest American writers at work today.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “In beautifully understated language and an unerringly nimble free-associative narrative, McDermott weaves such an intimate, complex life study that we feel each of Marie’s accumulating losses until they become staggering.”


  • “[Someone is] filled with subtle insights and abundant empathy and grace.”

    USA Today

  • “A remarkable portrait of an unremarkable life…as Marie, an obsessive observer of people, looks back over her life and tries to decipher the motivations, desires, and private feelings of those she has encountered. With virtuosic concision, McDermott assembles this swirl of seemingly mundane anecdotes into a powerful examination of love, mortality, and ‘the way of all flesh.’”

    New Yorker

  • “[McDermott’s] sentences know themselves so beautifully: what each has to deliver and how best to do it, within a modicum of space, with minimal fuss…McDermott’s excellence is on ample display here.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • “Spectacular…Without ever putting on literary airs, [McDermott] reveals to us what’s distinct about characters who don’t have the ego or eloquence to make a case for themselves as being anything special…[She is] a master of silence and gesture.”


  • “One of the great strengths of [Someone] lies in this sense of tenderness and intimacy, of empathy for the human condition…The narrative unfolds slowly, through small moments of beauty and vividness…[A] masterpiece.”

    Washington Post

  • “The maudlin and the twee that have tripped up so many others’ attempts at Irish-American portraiture are no temptation for McDermott. She does not genuflect, nor does she cling to grievance. She looks with a sharp gaze and a generous spirit, finds multitudes even in a clan’s closed air, and tells a clear-eyed, kinder tale.”

    Boston Globe

  • “Someone is ordinary Marie’s scattered retellings of her ordinary life…Her nonlinear presentation, combined with her strangely faulty eyesight, keeps us fascinated.”

    Dallas Morning News

  • “Just as McDermott manages to write lyrically in plain language, she is able to find the drama in uninflected experience. This is the grand accomplishment of Someone, a deceptively simple book that is, in fact, extraordinarily artful, a novel that traces the arc of an unexceptional, almost anonymous life and, seemingly by accident though of course on purpose, turns a run-of-the-mill story into a poem.”

    Los Angeles Times

  • “A quiet tour de force of a story. McDermott writes in lyrical yet methodical prose about an ordinary woman living an ordinary life, a seemingly nonstory with heartache, joy, suffering, and beauty all simmering beneath the scattered recollections that make up the novel…Ordinary life is made extraordinary by McDermott’s tender characterization of women, of husbands, of sons, of parents—a life that includes both the dark and the light within the simply ordinary.”

    Kansas City Star

  • “Few contemporary writers can bring a time and place to life as well as Alice McDermott…[Someone] works the subtle magic of all good art—its particulars yield a universal world…McDermott treats every character with unsentimental fondness. She never sets herself up to forgive or excuse; instead, she embraces each person with a kind of wonder and acceptance that becomes its own form of morality. A rare and lovely writer, she’s given us another book brimming with earthly grace.”

    Cleveland Plain Dealer

  • “[A] deceptively simple tour de force…[McDermott] is such an exceptional writer: in her hands, an uncomplicated life becomes singularly fascinating, revealing the heart of a woman whose defeats make us ache and whose triumphs we cheer. Marie’s vision (and ours) eventually clears, and she comes to understand that what she so often failed to see lay right in front of her eyes.”

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  • “Readers who love refined, unhurried, emotionally fluent fiction will rejoice at National Book Award–winner McDermott’s return. McDermott…is a master of hidden intensities, intricate textures, spiked dialogue, and sparkling wit.”

    Booklist (starred review)

  • “One of the author’s most trenchant explorations into the heart and soul of the twentieth-century Irish-American family.”

    Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

  • “McDermott’s nuanced writing turns the mundane into poetry. Kate Reading’s narration fits perfectly as she weaves her way through this story of an ordinary person living an ordinary life…Reading keeps a steady pace as Marie knits the past and the present into a life of loneliness, love, and loss.”


  • Selected for the September 2013 Indie Next List
  • Longlisted for the 2013 National Book Award for Fiction
  • A New York Times Bestseller
  • A Publishers Weekly Bestseller
  • A Los Angeles Times Bestseller
  • A Washington Post Best Audiobook of 2013
  • An NPR Best Book of 2013
  • A 2013 Washington Post Notable Book for Fiction
  • A 2013 New York Times Editor’s Choice
  • One of the Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2013
  • A 2013 Chicago Tribune Noteworthy Book for Fiction
  • A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2013 for Fiction
  • A 2013 New York Times Book Review Notable Book
  • A 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist
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About the Author
Author Alice McDermott

Alice McDermott is the New York Times bestselling author of numerous novels, including A Bigamist’s DaughterChild of My Heart, That Night, and Charming Billy, winner of the 1998 National Book Award. She has taught at the University of California at San Diego and American University, has been a writer-in-residence at Lynchburg and Hollins Colleges in Virginia, and was lecturer in English at the University of New Hampshire. Her short stories have appeared in Ms.RedbookMademoiselle, and Seventeen. The recipient of a Whiting Writers Award, McDermott is currently writer-in-residence at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and she lives with her family in Washington, DC.