The Ninth Hour – Alice McDermott

The Ninth Hour - Alice McDermottMcDermott is a superb writer, Anne Tyler-like in her precise descriptions of place and emotions. In this new novel, the place is Catholic Brooklyn in the early part of the 20th century, specifically the tenements. Key characters are the Sisters who visit and minister to the poor, elderly and sick, a vocation that is implicit in their Order’s name, the Little Sisters of the Sick Poor. There are two mortal sins that dominate the lives of Annie, a single mother, and her daughter Sally. The first mortal sin is the suicide of the husband/father: ..”he stepped off this grey life – collar and yoke – not for lack of love, but for the utter inability to go on, to climb, once again, out of the depths of a cold February day, a dark and weary afternoon”. Sally performs what she perceives as an act of penance to mitigate a second mortal sin committed by her mother. The actions of the Sisters, the context of working in a laundry with sighs, sounds and smells – everything is described perfectly. Overall, an introspective intelligent book about the limits of love and sacrifice. Also recommended is McDermott’s previous book, After This.

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