A Year in Reading: Alice McDermott

December 3, 2013 | 2 books mentioned 2 2 min read

covercoverThis year, I spent some quality reading time with what I think of now, in retrospect, as three sad men.  I began the year with a gift from one of my students, Stoner, by John Williams. I was, perhaps, somewhat late in discovering this marvelous novel of university life, first published in 1965, but I’m grateful now to have had the experience of it, to have lived William Stoner’s life: to have been the shy farm boy entranced by the power of literature, the earnest professor, the long suffering spouse and the doting father, the middle-aged lover surprised by joy. It is a kind of enchantment, to be lured so completely into the life of this character.   Something of the same can be said about Per Petterson’s 2003 novel, Out Stealing Horses, an intensely hermetic account of a sixty-seven year old man’s self exile to a remote cabin in Norway. There’s as much cold, and dark introspection, and wood chopping as one might expect, but there is also tenderness and grief, and the land is beautiful. This year I also revisited Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men. It was a novel I had loved in high school – as much for its portrait of pock-marked, chain-smoking, king-making Sadie Burke as for its larger-than-life depiction of “The Boss,” Willie Stark, or even its cynical and yet highly romantic, and loquacious, narrator. Having lived inside the beltway for nearly two decades now, I thought it time to reconsider, as an adult reader, whether All the King’s Men (written by a poet, after all, not a reporter) is indeed America’s best political novel. It is.

More from A Year in Reading 2013

Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

The good stuff: The Millions’ Notable articles

The motherlode: The Millions’ Books and Reviews

Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions, and follow The Millions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr.

is the author of Someone and six previous novels, including After This; Child of My Heart; Charming Billy, winner of the 1998 National Book Award; and At Weddings and Wakes, all published by FSG. That Night, At Weddings and Wakes, and After This were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. McDermott lives with her family outside Washington, D.C.


  1. I was interested in reading Alice McDermott”s book choices, but I am far more
    interested in why this site hasn’t reviewed McDermott’s “Someone,” which
    was long-listed for National Book Award. I believe it to be her best work
    ever; in fact, I finished the book, thought about it a lot, then sat down and read
    the book for the second time only weeks after finishing it the first time.

    The book is subtle–so subtle that if one doesn’t slow down and read carefully,
    it’s possible to miss important character points. And the writing is gorgeous–
    not lah-dee-dah gorgeous, but perfect words in perfect order gorgeous.
    It’s selling well for a literary novel, and I recommend it highly. I also
    recommend that this site do a piece on it.

  2. Well, I came by here several days later, and just wanted to make note of
    the fact that I’ve ordered “Stoner,” and, though I have three books in front
    of it, I will read it because Ms. McDermott recommended it.

    And if McDermott ever comes by and leads the commenters” responses,
    please know that I treasure the way you described Big Lucy’s mother’s
    trip back and forth to the mental institution every week to visit her
    daughter. Wonderful.

Add Your Comment:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.