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At Weddings and Wakes Hardcover – April, 1992

45 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Telling a story through the eyes of children is a tricky business, which is that much more proof of what a magician Alice McDermott happens to be. At Weddings and Wakes, her engrossing portrayal of love and tragedy in an Irish-Catholic family, takes us along with the kids as they accompany their mother on weekly visits to a world of memory and recrimination in the family's old Brooklyn neighborhood. An exquisitely executed little novel that masks all its hard work and complex structure behind finely wrought lace curtains of craft. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

"You only see your relatives at weddings and wakes," says a character in McDermott's delicately nuanced, elegiac and emotionally charged new novel (after That Night ), but the three Dailey children do not realize the significance of the remark until, three days after their beloved Aunt May's wedding, the family reassembles at her funeral. This latter occasion, alluded to throughout the narrative, is the only dramatic incident in this work--and it takes place offstage. Indeed, the story may seem too leisurely and uneventful, until, on completion, the reader experiences the catharsis that good literature provides. This meticulously observed evocation of a close-knit Irish Catholic family is seen through the children's eyes, registering the confusion and dawning knowledge which with youngsters try to understand adult relationships. Two sisters and a brother, they go twice a week with their mother from their home in Long Island to Brooklyn, where their mother's stepmother and three unmarried sisters live. Gradually the children comprehend the personality differences and tensions among the Towne sisters as well as their mother's dissatisfaction with her marriage. Gradually, too, they realize with joy that their middle-aged aunt, a former nun, will marry mailman Fred. In the time frame of one year, McDermott foreshadows and looks back on this event, while creating a world as exact as a documentary film and as lyrically imagined as a poem. A formidably gifted prose stylist, she can make each sentence a bell of sound, a prism of sight. BOMC selection.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 213 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus & Giroux (T); 1st edition (April 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374106746
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374106744
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,973,321 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 10, 2004
Format: Paperback
More like a Monet than a photograph, McDermott's, "At Weddings and Wakes" reveals its beauty by memory impressions rather than by the harsh black lines of plot. No less lost than others who have written here in the ebb and flow of the timeline, I, however, trusted the author. And soon I was intermixing with the memories of the book my own childhood memories - and identifying, in the moment, with the joys and tragedies of this family. I dare suggest any who read this book, liking it or not, will find themselves remembering family stories of times past - memories happy and sad, with characters tragic and heroic and possibly rethinking them in the light of McDermott's graceful treatment of such moments. It was an exquiste read. That is, for those who are comfortable with impressions leading you to see clearly the beauty in life's tragedies and joys, as like a Monet painting. But if you need/seek/want the clarity of a photograph for beauty - skip this book.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Tim of the sand on November 24, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Alice McDermott is obviously not for everyone. Her language is dense, at times difficult, but it's also hauntingly beautiful. Her writing in AW&W is just a pitch-perfect rendering of a child's memory of the complex life of an extended family. For some of us, the revelations in this novel resonate strongly with our own lives and experience: growing up Catholic in post-war America in a suburban family with urban roots. Ev en those lacking these personal connections might come to appreciate McDermott's artistry. (Just so you'll know where I'm coming from: this book, Possession by A.S. Byatt, Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, and Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov are my favorite fiction of those I've read in the last year or so.)
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By jeanne-scott on October 23, 2000
Format: Paperback
At Weddings and Wakes was a very interesting look at the history of a family through the collected (not collective) memories of the children who saw the developments through their child-eyes. The details that are so clear to a child, the sounds,the tastes, the physical feel of things, the lack of conversational detail and nuance, the end results of the day, all give a clean and simple feel to this story. The way that the different children have a slightly different perspective on the same occasion or type of occasion was insightful beyond ordinary reason. The children did not automatically connect one happening in their lives to another. To them there was no trainload of fault and blame to be emptied at every unhappy ( or happy) occurance. Sometimes good things just happen, sometimes bad. They seemed to feel that life just unfolded itself for them to observe it. The simplicity of a childs acceptance of things in their life is accomplished only through the complex thought and the gentle hand of an excellent writer like Alice McDermott. The entire novel was like a walk through the park holding a child's hand, as they open their heart to you completely, trying to help you understand life as they perceive it. Alice McDermott seems to know that it is not the destination but the journey itself that make life worthwhile.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 5, 1999
Format: Paperback
Beautifully written and highly evocative, the story stays with you like a childhood memory. The depiction of the father through the children's eyes is marvelous. This is one of my favorite books.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Kcolorado on August 31, 2003
Format: Paperback
Reading At Weddings and Wakes is like sharing a dream. Events are described with a crystalline clarity and tone perfect attention to detail, allowing us to be swept into the experience without knowing a lot of history of the characters.Even the names of the people appear only incidentally later in the book. The book unfolds slowly and almost cinematically as three children accompany their mother on a trip to Brooklyn to visit their grandmother and aunts. The pacing of the book is languid and deliberate. Characters appear and disappear, we hear snatches of conversations and recollections of past events. I love McDermott's language and though I am a fast reader, she forces me to slow down because each word is important. I am in absolute awe of her ability to tell a story, without resorting to conventional plot devices. I was so totally engaged with the characters and the situation, perhaps because it so closely mirrored my own experience growing up in an Irish Catholic family. Yet I believe the book transends the particulars of place as it addresses the central issues of life: joy and tragedy, our inability to let go of the past and our need to enjoy the moment. Through the eyes of the children we understand how events become experience, as they observe adults who seem mired in their histories, unable to find joy in the moment and move forward.
The love the children share with their favorite aunt,May, the only adult, apart from their father who is actively seeking happiness and finding joy, is palpable. It is so finely rendered that it brought back in a piercingly acute way, my own feelings for beloved and now departed family members. Other reader reviews makes it clear this isn't a book for everyone, but I will never forget it.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Marcia (psorenso@execpc.com) on April 25, 1998
Format: Paperback
The quality of memory is brilliantly conveyed in this novel: the details, the dreaminess, the layers of knowing - knowing what you knew as a child and what you learned later and what happened after that. The book is a quantity of detail that never becomes claustrophobic. In the opening pages, we have a minute description of the mother, her three children, and their bus ride from Long Island to the city to visit relatives. Without boring the reader, McDermott renders exquisitely how excrutiatingly boring such visits can be for children, who don't understand exactly what's going on among the adults but understand perfectly the tension. Out of this wealth of detail emerges the story of a family, and though thoroughly Irish and Catholic, these are characters recognizable in any family - the beautiful, disappointed one, the one determined to be happy, the adored alcoholic, the smart, embittered one. We see the way family stories take on a life of their own and family problems are more like the air one breathes than explicitly defined events and situations that can be rationally addressed. "Aren't you glad that you only have to see your relatives at weddings and wakes?" says a teenager to her younger cousins. They all agree, but the reader knows the truth - each one of them is a unique product of their common family, as is each one of us.
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