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After This: A Novel

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After This: A Novel Cover

ISBN13: 9780374168094
ISBN10: 0374168091
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

Questions for Discussion
 
1. Alice McDermotts writing style has been widely praised for its evocative imagery and powerful use of understatement. How were you affected by the quiet lines that told you of Johns future death (pages 130-131) or of Jacobs fate in Vietnam (page 199)? What everyday images best capture the most emotional events of your life?

2. The initial scenes in After This tell us that Mary dated her brothers friend George before she married John, and that she had given in to Mike Sheas advances at a party. How did these facts shape your understanding of her as you read about her life? Before she was married, what did Mary seem to believe her destiny was?

3. Discuss the memory of the “baby grand.” How would you describe Mary and Johns life at that point, before the birth of their children? What was Mary discovering about her husband when they were newlyweds? How did the death of his brother shape John?

4. What was foreshadowed by the scene at Jones Beach, not only in terms of Vietnam, but in the temperaments of the children and the dynamics of the family as a whole?

5. What do Mary and John teach their children about the role of religion, from the time they are young (saying an “Angel of God” during the 1960 hurricane) to the novels closing scene? How does the childrens relationship to the church differ from their parents relationship to it? Did you adopt your parents views on religion?

6. Does the typical twenty-first-century American family resemble the Keanes? Has the very definition of family shifted? What would the future likely hold for Clare and Gregory?

7. Mary became an adult when images of the ideal woman were almost always domestic; she was even expected to cook dinner for her father and brother each night, regardless of her plans for the evening. Her daughters would have access to far more career options, as well as birth control and legal abortions. Was the generation gap of the 1960s more significant than for other generations of mothers and daughters? How did gender roles for men shift during this time period? Did Johns sons fulfill his expectations?

8. How does the novels setting affect the storyline? How was the turmoil depicted in After This playing out elsewhere in the country? What is distinctive about the locales so frequently featured in Alice McDermotts fiction?

9. Discuss the other outcomes described in the novel, such as Mr. Persichettis addicted son, or Paulines spinsterhood (is she a difficult person because she never married, or did she never marry because shes such a difficult person?). What determines which course a life will take?

10. Part III (page 79) begins with Johns thoughts: “Man is immortal, or he is not. And if he is, theres the whole question of whom you pray to. If hes not, then prayer is wishful thinking. You either pray to the dead or you dont.” What is the greater quandary he wrestles with in this passage? Do you think he ever resolves it?

11. How did war and politics shape family life in the 1960s and early 1970s? Has the impact of one on the other changed in contemporary America?

12. As Annie bluffs her way through the Edith Wharton dialogue and embarks on a relationship with an English lover, how does she seem to view her past? How is she defining herself in those scenes? What enabled her to have an identity that seems so different from her mothers?

13. The friendship between Pauline and Mary is often referred to as obligatory, a fulfillment of the commandment to “feed my lambs.” Is this friendship by contemporary standards? Is that sense of obligation waning, and if so, what are the consequences for communities in general? Does Mary seem to have any friendships like Annie and Susans?

14. How would you have responded to Sister Lucys story (page 214) if you had been one of her students?

15. What was your reaction to the novels closing conversation? What is the impact of the priests question about distinguishing God-given gifts from an accomplishment attained only through strenuous effort? How does that scene speak to the Keane familys destiny?

16. What comes to mind when you consider the novels title? What aftermaths resonated the most with your own life story?

17. In what ways does After This complement and amplify the themes of McDermotts previous fiction? What might the Keanes think of the other families she has created?

 
Other Books By Alice McDermott
 
Child of My Heart

Charming Billy

At Weddings and Wakes

That Night

A Bigamists Daughter

 
Further Reading
 
Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood; Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh; When Madeline Was Young by Jane Hamilton; LAmerica by Martha McPhee; The Last of Her Kind by Sigrid Nunez.

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Lee Kissick, February 21, 2011 (view all comments by Lee Kissick)
I wouldn't have guessed that such a spare book could so thoroughly evoke a 20-yr interval. I admire that McDermott cleverly spent little text on the more flagrant cliches of the times (e.g., a son lost in Nam, drug use) that would have overcolored and diminished the story. The vignettes were perfectly spaced in time and cohered wonderously. The characters emerged fully detailed and credible although darned if I can find anywhere that McDermott wasted space elaborating their personal traits. The players just emerged very naturally. Didn't expect to enjoy this so much ... I'll hunt down more of her novels.
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lea Bishop, November 10, 2006 (view all comments by lea Bishop)
At sixty-one years of age, I spent the time reading After This in an inner parallel process of reliving my very similar, although, middle-class Protestant, upbringing. For the duration of the reading, I experienced concurrent joy and anguish as the ghosts of my past came back to haunt.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780374168094
Subtitle:
A Novel
Author:
McDermott, Alice
Author:
Plimpton, Martha
Publisher:
Macmillan Audio
Subject:
General
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Social life and customs
Subject:
United states
Subject:
General Fiction
Subject:
Domestic fiction
Subject:
United States Social life and customs.
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Hardcover
Publication Date:
September 5, 2006
Binding:
Electronic book text in proprietary or open standard format
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
9 cds, 10.5 hours
Pages:
288
Dimensions:
8.53 x 5.76 x 1.095 in

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Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
History and Social Science » American Studies » Popular Culture

After This: A Novel Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$3.50 In Stock
Product details 288 pages Farrar Straus Giroux - English 9780374168094 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "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.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by , "Alice McDermott's sixth novel...returns her readers to the familiar terrain of Irish American Long Island and, yet again, to the combination of qualities — compressed, poetic prose allied with an unblinking, William Trevor–ish sympathy for the muffled spiritual adventures of the most middling members of the middle classes — that have earned McDermott her high reputation (and prizes: she has a National Book Award and two Pulitzer nominations to her credit)." (read the entire Atlantic Monthly review)
"Review" by , "Astutely attuned to the spiritual consequences of a rapidly metamorphosing world and the mysteries of desire, love, faith, family, and friendship, McDermott elucidates all that changes and all that endures with wondrous specificity and plentitude of heart."
"Review" by , "It is hard to know how to start piling on the praise for this gripping, poignant book. It would seem there is no technique of fiction McDermott has not mastered."
"Review" by , "From its opening sentence...Alice McDermott's exquisite sixth novel unfolds in unhurried splendor, its pace so exacting you can feel the sting of sand in a high city wind."
"Review" by , "Another lovely needlepoint of a novel about middle-class Irish-American life....[McDermott is] a canny observer of domestic dynamics. (Grade: A-)"
"Synopsis" by , Witty, compassionate, and wry, this novel captures the social, political, and spiritual upheavals of the middle decades of the 20th century through the experiences of a middle-class couple, their four children, and the changing worlds in which they live.
"Synopsis" by ,
A vivid portrait of an American family in the middle decades of the twentieth century by bestselling author Alice McDermott

"Synopsis" by ,
       Alice McDermott's powerful new novel wittily captures the social, political and spiritual upheavals of the mid-twentieth century through the story of a family, and the changing world in which they live.

       While Michael and Annie Keane taste the alternately intoxicating and bitter first fruits of the sexual revolution, their older, more tentative brother lags behind, until he finds himself on the way to Vietnam. Meanwhile, Clare, the youngest child of their aging parents, seeks to maintain an almost saintly innocence.

        After This, alive with the passions and tragedies of a determining era in our history, portrays the clash of traditional, faith-bound life and modern freedom, while also capturing, with McDermott's inimitable understanding and grace, the joy, sorrow, anger, and love that underpin, and undermine, what it is to be a family

"Synopsis" by , Alice McDermott's powerful novel is a vivid portrait of an American family in the middle decades of the twentieth century. Witty, compassionate, and wry, it captures the social, political, and spiritual upheavals of those decades through the experiences of a middle-class couple, their four children, and the changing worlds in which they live. While Michael and Annie Keane taste the alternately intoxicating and bitter first fruits of the sexual revolution, their older, more tentative brother, Jacob, lags behind, until he finds himself on the way to Vietnam. Meanwhile, Clare, the youngest child of their aging parents, seeks to maintain an almost saintly innocence. After This, alive with the passions and tragedies of a determining era in our history, portrays the clash of traditional, faith-bound life and modern freedom, while also capturing, with McDermott's inimitable understanding and grace, the joy, sorrow, anger, and love that underpin, and undermine, what it is to be a family. Alice McDermott is the author of five previous novels, including Child of My Heart; Charming Billy, winner of the 1998 National Book Award; and At Weddings and Wakes, all published by FSG. She lives with her family outside Washington, D.C. Pulitzer Prize FinalistA New York Times Notable Book of the Year Alice McDermott's new novel, After This, is a vivid portrait of the twentieth century and evokes the social, political, and spiritual upheavals of its time through the experiences of a working-class couple, John and Mary Keane, their four children, and the changes radiating through their Catholic community on Long Island. While Michael and Annie Keane taste the alternatively intoxicating and bitter first fruits of the sexual revolution, their older, more tentative brother, Jacob, lags behind, until he finds himself on the way to Vietnam. Clare, the youngest child of their aging parents, seeks to maintain an impossible, almost saintly innocence. As John and Mary struggle to uphold the framework of their family, the four siblings are destined to experience, first-hand, the challenges and liberties born in the crucible of the 1960s. Alive with the passions and tragedies of a determining era in our history, After This portrays the clash of traditional, faith-bound life with modern freedom while also capturing the joy, sorrow, anger, and love that underpin and undermine, what it is to be a family. Pulitzer Prize Finalist Ms. McDermott gives us an affecting meditation on the consolations and discontents of family life--the centripetal and centrifugal forces that bind husbands and wives, parents and children together and fling them ineluctably apart . . . She] has returned to the territory she knows best: the family (specifically, the Irish middle-class family, around the 1960's). And her easy authority with this material, combined with her clear-eyed sympathy for her characters, results in a moving, old-fashioned story about longing and loss and sorrow.--Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times Ms. McDermott gives us an affecting meditation on the consolations and discontents of family life--the centripetal and centrifugal forces that bind husbands and wives, parents and children together and fling them ineluctably apart . . . She] has returned to the territory she knows best: the family (specifically, the Irish middle-class family, around the 1960's). And her easy authority with this material, combined with her clear-eyed sympathy for her characters, results in a moving, old-fashioned story about longing and loss and sorrow.--Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times To recount the bare outline of a single scene between a couple named John and Mary, lower middle-class parents residing in the bland-lands of suburban Long Island, is to be reminded of what an extraordinary artist Alice McDermott is . . . In the way McDermott tells their story--in her surgeon's eye for detail, in her poet's virtuosity with language, in her unrelenting ability to penetrate surfaces and explore the rich and tragic nuances of the human predicament--the everyday is transubstantiated into art and the wash-and-wear facts of a Catholic family of six...riding out the boom and gloom of America's post-World War II suburban saga is made into the stuff of literature . . . I know of no more truthful writer than Alice McDermott . . . I can't but assess and admire her transcendent capacity to capture the shares presumptions and sharp-angled perspective . . . of the urban Irish-Catholic community . . . Alice McDermott is a powerful and graceful novelist. Her abilities as a stylist and storyteller put her in the first rank of American writers, and After This will only add to that reputation . . . Her greatest gift is to make her Catholic sensibility indistinguishable from the catholicity of her literary imagination, a clement, loving, and sweet (but never saccharine) embrace of all that is human.--Peter Quinn, Commonwealth

Insightful, moving, often poetic, and descriptive of something broader than it at first appears . . . It's a brief novel that fulfills its promise, to capture through one family the upheaval of an entire generation.--Jean Blish Siers, Charlotte Observer It is no secret that Alice McDermott, winner of the 1998 National Book Award for Charming Billy, is a writer of many talents, but to read her new novel, After This, is to be reminded how rare her gifts are . . . McDermott has always written relatively short novels. Again in After This there is no excess, no look-at-me pyrotechnics in her prose; with the mastery of a poet, she distills the life of the Keanes to its essence. Her method is familiar, going back and forth in time to reveal the story and the meaning bit by bit, as she peels back from the surface to the point of revelation . . . Several of McDermott's novels have a mythic quality, and this one achieves that mark most keenly . . . All her books are touched with the grace of her generous

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