Synopses & Reviews
Twice a week, Lucy Dailey leaves suburbia with her three children in tow, returning to the Brooklyn home where she grew up and where her stepmother and unmarried sisters still live. Aunt Veronica, with her wounded face and dreams of beauty, drowns her sorrows
in drink. Aunt Agnes, an acerbic student of elegance, sips only from the finest crystal
as she sees Aunt May, the ex-nun, blossom with a late and unexpected love.
And all the while, the children watch, absorbing the legacy of their haunted family.
At once a moving evocation of lifes inexplicable calamities and a magical celebration of childhood and familial love, At Weddings and Wakes is the story of three generations of an Irish-American family through the eyes of its youngest members. With eloquence and grace, master storyteller Alice McDermott transforms everyday experience into the heroic and universal.
"You'll find yourself reading every word of Alice McDermott's new novel, not because it's complicated but because such wonderful things happen deep inside the sentences." Newsweek
"At Weddings And Wakes transforms every experience into the heroic and the universal. It is a testament to the remarkable gift of a literary master writing at the peak of her story telling powers. A brilliant, highly complex, extraordinary piece of fiction and a triumph for its author." Chicago Tribune
"By turns wry and sad, At Weddings and Wakes is McDermott's finest novel to date." Barbara Love, Library Journal
"A haunting and masterly work of literary art." Wall Street Journal
"A beautifully wrought novel...about all families and all families' encounters with love, morality, and sorrow." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"At Weddings and Wakes immediately sweeps the reader into the numinous world of the Townes....[It] reminded me of Joyce's great story 'The Dead,' with its haunting winter light and landscape, sharp social observation, and tribute to the bittersweet redemptions memory, desire, and longing afford." Paul Baumann, Commonweal
"A haunted, troubled, beautifully articulated journey into the past." San Francisco Chronicle
"Beautifully written fiction...the structures are complex, slipping from the present, past and to the future and back again like elusive sea nymphs." The Washington Post
"McDermott can make sadness exhilarating; she can make goodness as irresistable as venial sin. The detail in At Weddings and Wakes is not painstaking but hallowing; as if specific descriptions were the wards of a key and lock that, fitted exactly, open the door to the perilous magic of the past." Los Angeles Times
"Brilliant...McDermott has fashioned a spare, delicate, and luminous gem....Tender and true, this novel is also technically stunning." The Plain Dealer
"Vividly evoked...With her third novel, McDermott secures her reputation as a mesmerizing and innovative storyteller." Time
"Ms. McDermott has taught us to expect something extraordinary...her sentences have a harmony all their own grave, decorous, moving." The New York Times Book Review
"Remarkable...McDermott plots the touching dignity of ordinary lives pursued on the crest of inevitable sadness...In translucent prose with rich recognitions, a fine novel of vigorous wisdom and heartbreaking humanity." Kirkus Reviews
"Beautiful....Writing in an elliptical, almost languid prose, and telling her story with detachment and classic literary grace, McDermott is at the top of her artistry here." Entertainment Weekly
Twice a week, Lucy Dailey leaves suburbia with her three children in tow, returning to the Brooklyn home where she grew up and where her stepmother and unmarried sisters still live. Aunt Veronica, with her wounded face and dreams of beauty, drowns her sorrows in drink. Aunt Agnes, an acerbic student of elegance, sips only from the finest crystal as she sees Aunt May, the ex-nun, blossom with a late and unexpected love. And all the while, the children watch, absorbing the legacy of their haunted family.
At once a moving evocation of life’ s inexplicable calamities and a magical celebration of childhood and familial love, At Weddings and Wakes is the story of three generations of an Irish-American family through the eyes of its youngest members. With eloquence and grace, master storyteller Alice McDermott transforms everyday experience into the heroic and universal.
Slipping effortlessly between past and present, between memory and observation, Alice McDermott's critically acclaimed "At Weddings and Wakes" tells the story of three generations of an Irish-Catholic family through the eyes of its youngest members. 288 pp. 17,500 print.
Reading Group Guide
1. Alice McDermotts prose has been praised for the sheer precision of its imagery, such as the subway journey in the opening sequence that recalls long-gone wicker seats and tokens embossed with a figure reminiscent of a peace sign. Did the book inspire vivid memories of your own past? Which precise images evoke long-lost worlds?
2. What is the effect of the childrens point of view in At Weddings and Wakes? What matters to children versus to adults? What do Lucys children comprehend better than the grown-ups do?
3. What does Momma teach her stepdaughters about the role of women in the world? What did it take to be considered a successful woman among other women of her generation?
4. What do the scenes of Catholic school, such as Margarets bringing cemetery flowers to Sister Joan, indicate about a young childs needs in the classroom? What were Sister Miriam Josephs aspirations in becoming a nun? Do those dreams seem fulfilled by her work as a teacher?
5. In what way did the two settingssuburbia and cityserve as a metaphor for other divisions within the novel? Would you have sided with the characters who decried the new suburbs? How does Lucys suburban life compare to her Brooklyn home?
6. How does Lucys husband cope with his memories of serving as a soldier in Europe? How did he reconcile the terror of the German pilot with the difficulties of civilian life after the war?
7. What traits does Fred share with May? In what way do their family experiences give them a means for understanding one another?
8. How did Momma adapt to her role as stepparent? How does her approach to parenting compare to Lucys?
9. How would you characterize the interactions of Bobby, Margaret, and Maryanne? How do these siblings grow and change throughout the novel, particularly as spring sets in and Margaret embarks on an early-morning Lenten ritual with Bobby?
10. Who has the happiest relationships in the novel? Is fate or temperament the bigger factor in whether the characters experience bitterness?
11. The books title is referred to when Rosemary asks, “Arent you glad that you only have to see your relatives at weddings and wakes?” What determines which relatives we remain close to, and which ones we scorn or avoid? To what extent is allegiance or estrangement permanent across generations?
12. We are told that Veronica was named “for the saint who the nuns said was without vanity, who touched the bloodied face of Christ with her veil.” Did Veronica fulfill the legacy of her namesake?
13. What accounts for Agness approach to living? Is she simply materialistic, or does she see herself as upholding a necessary standard? Did she and May have an advantage, having known their parents for an albeit brief span of time in their childhood?
14. What led May from the convent to the secular world, and ultimately to marriage? Was she a better candidate for marriage than her sisters were?
15. What distinguishes the family depicted in this novel from others appearing in Alice McDermotts work? In what way does At Weddings and Wakes add new facets of love and fate to her storytelling?