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After This: A Novel Hardcover – September 5, 2006

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (September 5, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374168091
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374168094
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.9 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #761,951 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A master at capturing Irish-Catholic American suburban life, particularly in That Night (1987) and the National Book Award–winning Charming Billy (1998), McDermott returns for this sixth novel with the Keane family of Long Island, who get swept up in the wake of the Vietnam War. When John and Mary Keane marry shortly after WWII, she's on the verge of spinsterhood, and he's a vet haunted by the death of a young private in his platoon. Jacob, their first-born, is given the dead soldier's name, an omen that will haunt the family when Jacob is killed in Vietnam (hauntingly underplayed by McDermott). In vignette-like chapters, some of which are stunning set pieces, McDermott probes the remaining family's inner lives. Catholic faith and Irish heritage anchor John and Mary's feelings, but their children experience their generation's doubt, rebellion and loss of innocence: next eldest Michael, who had always dominated Jacob, drowns his guilt and regret in sex and drugs; Anne quits college and moves to London with a lover; Clare, a high school senior, gets pregnant. The story of '60s and '70s suburbia has been told before, and McDermott has little to say about the Vietnam War itself. But she flawlessly encapsulates an era in the private moments of one family's life. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School—John and Mary Keane, good Irish Catholics raising four children and sharing their lively family with a spinster "aunt," feel the impact of the 1960s on their family: the sudden freedom of the sexual revolution, the controversy and tragedy of the Vietnam War, and the growing irreverence of popular culture. Their story, which spans the years from the end of World War II to the 1970s, is as ordinary as it is compelling and as suspenseful as it is inevitable. The characters are so human and sympathetic that readers can barely leave them on the last page. The narrative unfolds in economical yet rich language, using flashbacks and foreshadowing to provide insight into characters, hints at world events, and exquisite images. The story is episodic: the meeting and marriage of Mary and John, outings at the ocean, a frightening storm and a fallen tree, the death of their firstborn in Vietnam, the pregnancy of an unmarried daughter, the renovation of the neighborhood church. These mostly ordinary events become extraordinary in the telling, making this a fine read for teens who appreciate family stories.—Jackie Gropman, Chantilly Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Customer Reviews

Alice McDermott is a good writer.
G. Bestick
A couple times I found that so confusing and annoying I almost quit reading the book.
It's a little too much like real life, the rather dull aspects.
rainy day reader

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I thought this was a marvelous little gem. It's a novel that's formed by the interconnection of several stories about the Keane family (and isn't that really what life is all about...interconnected stories?) This is an "ordinary" family: one son goes to Vietnam, another goes off to college, a daughter travels to London for her education, another stays home (no spoiler). But it's in their very ordinariness that this book shines.

I get tired of reviews from readers who can't enjoy a book without an adventure-a-minute plot. There IS a place for books like that, but this is not one of them. It's a character-based book, and the characters come alive. I feel as if I know every single one of them; as if they could have been my next door neighbors or the family down the block.

Some say Alice McDermott is a "Catholic writer." I was never brainwashed with religion like some; I see her as a universal writer. The religion here is a backdrop to the lives of the characters; something that gives their life structure and community, but not necessarily meaning. They have to find the meaning within themselves.

The writing is so powerful -- and authentic -- that I re-read passages just to review the author's construction of sentences. I will not easily forget the family members that populated this book.
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55 of 66 people found the following review helpful By G. Bestick VINE VOICE on September 6, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Alice McDermott is a good writer. She casts a wise and loving eye over her turf, the suburban New York City Irish Catholic scene during the baby boom years. In several books, especially Charming Billy, she successfully evokes the humor and pathos of her chosen people. She's particularly good on the bonds of family, the ways in which fealty to one's tribe can simultaneously prop up and chafe a soul.

Unfortunately, After This is not one of her better novels. It's not even a novel, actually, but a series of linked episodes about the Keane family as they make their non-reflective way from the fifties to the seventies. This structure can work, and has, back to Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, which used a series of small moments in small lives to say something profound about a place and a time. But the episodes in After This are too elliptical to build upon, and the fractured structure becalms the plot.

McDermott has set herself the challenge of writing something interesting about determinedly average people. Mother Mary has almost resigned herself to spinsterhood when she meets John, an older WW II veteran, at a lunch counter in Manhattan. They marry, move to the suburbs, create four children. The oldest, Jacob is a tender, often feckless boy. His younger brother Michael, more wised-up and aggressive, torments Jacob throughout their childhood. Bookish Annie stands in for the aspiring intellectuals in blue collar families, and baby Clare is a simpler girl, beloved by all. Because McDermott leaps from person to person, we don't spend enough time with any one of the Keanes to become invested in their doings. The most sympathetic character in the book is Mary's friend Pauline.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Wendy Kaplan on August 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover
You didn't have to grow up Catholic, like the families in this book, to identify entirely with its story. You just had to be there.

For those of us whose childhoods intersected with the "Sixties" as popular culture understands it, the shock of being raised one way (e.g., wearing white gloves to a department store; dressing up to go to the movies) with a deep and constant value system--and having that system completely ridiculed, turned upside down and labeled obsolete in just a few tumultuous years, was all too real, and is memorably described in this book.

Here, we meet the Keanes, good, decent middle-class devout Catholics who raise their four children around their church, Catholic school, and all the social values that come with that lifestyle. There is no divorce. There is no abortion (at least as far as these people understand life). Vietnam is a faraway and uninteresting place. And then, seemingly overnight, everything changes.

We see the four Keane children, two boys and two girls, encounter every cliche of the Sixties, except that if you lived it, it was all too real: unwanted pregnancy, unwanted draft into the horrible Vietnam War, sex without love or any commitment, drugs -- the litany is endless. Even the Keanes' beloved church is "modernized" to the point that it no longer seems a church.

Some of the characters survive, able to accept the changes and act accordingly. Others do not. All makes perfect sense.

I have ordered this book for a dear friend who DID grow up Catholic, but that is not a prerequisite to experiencing this wonderful, special book. Highly recommended.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Kearney VINE VOICE on March 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Friends have suggested for years that I should read Alice McDermott's works because she is a modern "Catholic" writer. I count many "Catholic" writers among my favorites: in fiction Flannery O'Connor and Walker Percy immediately come to mind. If I ever write "the great American novel" I'd love it to be compared to the likes of Jon Hassler, a wonderful and in my opinion underrated writer who I think gives some of the most accurate depictions of Catholicism in the United States. Alice McDermott would seem like a logical recommendation as an author to read in his writings. I've also read some interviews with McDermott about writing and the role her being Catholic plays in her writing and I agreed with my friends, I'd probably enjoy her work. Now that I've read AFTER THIS, I can see why McDermott was so highly recommended.

AFTER THIS is not so much a novel as a collection of sketches. The sketches involve the Keane family: John and Mary and their children Jacob, Michael, Anne, and Claire. The story begins after the Second World War and ends in the 1970's. We are drawn into the personalities of the characters and the major events of the time: the changes in the Catholic Church as a result of Vatican II, changing attitudes in society regarding women and sexuality, the Vietnam War, and the pervasive freedoms that took place in the 60's and 70's are all a part of the book, but none of the events takes center stage, even the Vietnam War which ends up taking a great toll on the family. Some reviewers have used a photograph analogy to describe the book and before reading any reviews, this is what came to my mind too. It's almost as if the narrator is looking through a photo album, more or less chronologically arranged, and tells the story behind the photo.
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