The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott
When Alice McDermott writes, you don’t just read her words, you see and feel them. Her style is so delicate and intricate but so everyday and familiar. Somehow you simply settle into her character’s lives as though they were your own. I don’t know how she does this but if I ever choose to have my story written, I want her to write it because if I did, the result would be sold as an alternative to sleeping pills.
Also, a quick reminder before I get going that I reviewed another of Alice McDermott’s books Someone on the blog, so you may want to check that out too.
The Ninth Hour begins with a suicide. Jim sends his pregnant wife Annie to run chores at dusk and while she shops, he gases himself and sets their apartment alight.
This horrible scene opens the door for Sister St Saviour to walk into Annie’s life – and in turn, alter it and that of her unborn daughter.
With nowhere to go, Annie is welcomed into the world of the local Brooklyn convent – not as a sister, but as a seamstress and laundry worker and she easily blends into their world, as does her daughter Sally. The nuns are powerhouses and I loved reading about their tireless work and their chutzpah. Those gals are the bomb. Their life was not for the faint of heart and when they came to sort you out, neither were they. They were fierce warriors and for all the mystery about heaven, they saw life on earth exactly as it was.
Alice McDermott writes with poignancy and sharp clarity – you are there in those pages, sitting with the nuns at their dinner table, walking with them on the Brooklyn streets as they charge toward people’s grief, not from it. You are with Annie as she rebuilds her life, and in step with Sally as she figures hers out. It is subtle and powerful – which I understand is a bit of a contradiction – but that is how the author writes. Slowly, intently, intricately, deep with emotional intimacy and you find yourself savouring it, not devouring it. Hence it took me a while to actually finish it.
The Ninth Hour is like a fine wine that you sip, rather than skull, and it is both unforgettable and delicious.
But that is just my two cents worth.