(2006) is a novel by American author Alice McDermott. Set among the Irish Catholic community on Long Island, the novel follows the Keane family as their four children come of age during the 1960s.
The novel opens shortly after the end of World War II. On a spring day, lonely 30-year-old Mary Rose leaves church, where she has prayed to be content with her life. She longs for a husband as she struggles under the burden of caring for and supporting her elderly father. It is her lunch hour, and she ducks into Schrafft’s for something to eat. There she gets talking to a man whom she finds powerfully attractive. The next day, they both come to Schrafft’s again. Mary and the man—John Keane—begin dating and marry.
The novel leaps forward in time. Mary and John are married and taking a trip to the seaside at Long Island on a deserted Sunday when the Keanes would usually be at Mass. They have three children. The oldest, Jacob, is named after a friend John lost in combat during the war. He has a younger brother, Michael, and a sister, Annie.
Mary is pregnant again. John is worried. The responsibilities of work and home are already weighing on him. A powerful wind is whipping in from the sea, blowing sand in their faces, and they are forced to cut their vacation short. When they arrive home, the tree in their yard is down, and the Keanes learn that a hurricane is forecast.
The next morning, their neighbor comes round with a chainsaw to help them dispose of the tree. Mary goes into labor, and the neighbor—a nurse—helps with the delivery.
The next section of the novel comprises snapshots of family life as the children grow up. We follow John’s fundraising work with the Parish Committee at St Gabriel’s and watch him struggle with the realization that his eldest son is neither athletic nor academic. Mary invites her best friend, a lonely woman named Pauline, to play the role of spinster aunt to her children. Later, Mary takes Annie to see Michelangelo’s Pietà at the World’s Fair.
The Sexual Revolution impinges heavily on the children’s teenage years. Bookish Annie takes a neighbor girl to Manhattan for an abortion (while she waits, she reads A Farewell to Arms
). Michael applies to a college in upstate New York, where he discovers drink and drugs and spends more time in a local bar than in lectures.
Meanwhile, Pauline declines into alcoholism and is badly injured in a fall.
Jacob struggles academically and is socially shy. After a bad first year in college, he drops out and is drafted to fight in Vietnam, where he is killed. In the wake of this loss, Michael sobers up and begins training to become a teacher.
Annie, the most academic of the children, applies to a renowned university in England. There, she struggles with her wealthy classmates. Eventually, she meets a more down-to-earth man on a bus and decides to drop out of school and stay in England, upsetting her parents.
Mary and John place their hopes in their youngest daughter, hurricane-born Clare. She is devoted to her parents and a devout Catholic, but one summer she finally takes up with a boyfriend. The nuns notice her increased confidence and mutter about her. Clare becomes pregnant, and Mary and John are heartbroken.
Clare decides not to abort her baby. She and her boyfriend marry, and the novel closes as she looks to her future.