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At Weddings and Wakes: A Novel
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At Weddings and Wakes: A Novel

3.48 of 5 stars 3.48  ·  rating details  ·  811 ratings  ·  87 reviews
The three children of an Irish-American family in Long Island are witnesses to the cycles of dissatisfaction, bitterness and recurring affection that make up the lives of their extended family. A tender, sad and funny book from the author of the National Book Award-nominated That Night and Charming Billy

ebook, 208 pages
Published November 24th 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published April 1st 1992)
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Isn't it funny how readers can have such vastly different reactions to the same book? I think I loved Alice McDermott's At Weddings and Wakes for just the reasons many other (Amazon) readers panned it. Too wordy? Beautifully lyrical. And actually I felt that she told her story with a perfect economy of prose. Pointless and plotless? Maybe we didn't read the same book. This is not a plot-driven story by any means, it's all about an Irish-American family living in Brooklyn in the 1950s and 60s. It ...more
Sally Brock
Reading this book was like watching a family portrait being painted. Stroke by stroke, layer by layer, living, dead, named and un-named relatives emerge like ghosts who cannot be fully present. It allows wrenchingly intimate details of a family of Irish immigrants playing out their long held repressions, fearful, protective of their frailties and cautious of the new world around them. Within this family the youngest daughters, never named in the novel, try to make sense of the fragments of truth ...more
At first, I was skeptical about this novel. For whatever reason, I was convinced this was going to be nothing but fluff.

As I kept reading, however, I found myself, almost unwittingly, becoming involved in the lives of these characters. I wanted to learn more about these women. I see how McDermott gave us brief glimpses into their experiences and lives, but I wanted more.

Overall good. The novel was very powerful in its simplicity and does well at showing what a child sees: bits and pieces that
Well - this book should have been a fantastic read - there was a powerful story here with lots of potential - however the author's over descriptive language made it hard to understand at times. The story was written in the third person - she and he - however - you sometimes didn't know who you were following - who's thoughts - actions etc. At one point, they are talking about the dad arriving - and how he dropped dead at the top of the stairs - I reread that several times before I realized they ...more
This book sat in my shelf for a couple of months . . . . for no particular reason. it took a few pages to commit to it as i'd just finished a page turning mystery and this is a much different type of book. It is lyrically beautiful, a portrait of a family (in the words of another reviewer). The happenings of this family are revealed in the same way we see details in a painting, sometimes in a seemingly random order, sometimes with a hint that slowly develops into something greater, and often fro ...more
After reading McDermott's "Someone," I found this on my shelf and eagerly began reading. Once again McDermott tells a story with careful character sketches and an artful way of going back and forth in time. Her writing is quite wonderful and needs a close read. She engages the reader on an intellectual level, and although you have a relationship with the characters, it is from a distance as an observer. I thought the ending of this book was artful. I will continue to read her beautifully constru ...more
McDermott is a superb writer. This story is told by an omniscient narrator, but it's from the children's point of view, and the events aren't chronological. McDermott does a great job of telling the story in pieces, much like our fragmented memories from childhood. We find out major events in an offhand way; then the story backs up and takes us to the scene. Knowing what's going to happen doesn't spoil the book; it makes it more poignant, as if we are thininking back on our own lives. I am readi ...more
McDermott is a good writer and this is a wistful, nostalgic book about a different place (NYC), a different time (1950s), and a different family (Irish immigrants). The author evokes the weekly visits to the children's grandmother and aunts so clearly that I can smell it and taste it. Though it's a book where not much happens, at least not on the surface, tragedies and regrets small and large permeate it. The three children must endure visit after visit as their mother, mismatched in marriage, c ...more
I didn't like this book at first. It seemed to be about ordinary life, and I didn't really feel like reading about that at the time. Plenty of ordinary life to go around. However, but I met Alice McDermott this past Spring and considered her to be a very nice person, and I had already given up on another book that she had written since that date, so I was determined to finish this book. I was glad that I did. It was certainly about ordinary life, but it takes a craftsman, and in this case, a cra ...more
a rare book in that there is hardly any dialogue, many scenes are told out of sequence and as flashbacks, and there is not a lot of plot - just a few months of the ongoings in an irish-american family in new york in the 1940s. the writing is so beautiful i could overlook the meanderings. my mother-in-law loaned me this book; i am sure that she sees a lot of her family and childhood in alice mcdermott's books, so i am glad that she passed it on to me.
Like interviewing a client in a therapeutic setting, the story unfolds in starts, stops and reverses, but the deeply felt authenticity of the characters kept me enmeshed. One line stuck with me as so true poignant and evocative; a character was described as having inherited her family's "easy access to regret".

That so describes in such a gentle and nonjudgemental way so many people I know. It stays with me.

Linda Howe Steiger
Short, rather melancholy little novel, told from the perspective of 3 young wide-eyed children who are so seldom named that they become a rather odd, anonymous, even characterless voice referred to most often as "the children." Deftly written, but to what end? A curious but effective little strategy is employed to keep us reading through the flat colorless lives of one unhappy family: the report dropped by one of the children in response to a teacher's question ". . . and what did you do last su ...more
Intriguing temporal/structural strategies in this book, kind of like a Rubik's cube. But the atmosphere of it was SO claustrophobic! I kind of hurried to get through it so I could get out of there, as I was feeling suffocated by the details as filtered (and often repeated) through child-consciousness. And not just one child, but three, experiencing their family stories in a way that winds up holding the emotional impact of the family dramas at a distance. So I found out what happened, but as thr ...more
I really enjoyed Charming Billy, so I quickly picked up another book by Alice McDermott. Unfortunately At Wakes and Weddings was not nearly as good. I had a really hard time following what was going on in this book. McDermott apparently has issues with using way too many prepositions, which I am surprised her editor hasn't pointed out to her. I thought the same thing when reading Charming Billy, but had less of a problem following it. This time there were way too many hes and shes for me to figu ...more
This book isn't what you'd call action-packed, or even all that thought-provoking. It's the third of McDermott's books that I've read, and the only one I've really enjoyed has been Charming Billy. In addition to this book not being overly exciting, it wasn't told in a linear fashion and many of the characters were often not referred to by name (their mother, their father, the boy, the youngest girl, etc.). The thing I like about McDermott is her writing (aside from identifiers). Here are a coupl ...more
I really like the way Alice McDermott structures her novels so that you can bounce, or rather float, back and forth in time. Not only does it give them the feeling of real memory, and also a curiously child-like tone of detachment, but it also drives a stronger realization of the characters. They hold the work together as they are built up over the course of the novel, as the narrative is pieced together like a puzzle. In a sense, she flips toe roles of character and plot, and results here are c ...more
Melanie Griffin
I'm afraid to say that I didn't love this. I know we all must love everything that Alice writes. This is my first of her books, and I was disappointed. Maybe it's all the build-up and "walking on water" expectations.
Anyway, I found her point-of-view confusing; it's primarily told through the eyes of three children, except that the reader is to accept that "the children" all felt and thought the same thing all the time. Weird and not believable.
Her actual writing is lovely, but the structure an
This slim book was a bit of a puzzle. Seeing the world through the eyes of children, you piece together their experiences and observations based on their limited knowledge and experience. The book also bounces back and forth through time - another element that both makes the book a challenge and a pleasure.
I realized, after reading yet another book by McDermott, that nothing too much really happens in her novels. This is not a negative thing to say, however, because the little that does happen is so well explained to us, the perceptions of the characters are so nuanced, that it feels as though each scene is full and satisfying. I love her style of writing--and I don't say that lightly. I wondered, though, after reading this book, if what gives her the room to write such beautiful and fleshed out s ...more
I wasn't sure if I liked Weddings and Wakes at first. It took me a while to appreciate Alice McDermott's somewhat convoluted narrative. However, in the end, I think I will long remember many of the vivid scenes from this story of a troubled Irish American family as seen through the eyes of three young children. McDermott captures time and place with a keen eye for detail and much finesse as the story unfolds.
S.K.  Kalsi
I could read a grocery list by Alice McDermott and I would be astounded by her musicality, lush sentences, and depth.What others may find boring,i.e. the simple facts of life, I find gorgeous. A great writer! A huge influence on my own work.
Sep 30, 2014 Barbara marked it as life-is-too-short  ·  review of another edition
I tried to like this, I really did. I plowed through roughly the first half, then decided it had to go in the "life's too short" pile.

I couldn't locate the story, at least, not one of any substance. Perspective bounces back and forth between current and previous generations; people are alive, then they're not, then they are again; and sometimes an entire paragraph is one long, free-associating sentence. It just roams, unchecked, and I tired of trying to figure out what was really happening. The
The nonlinear storyline simply doesn't work for a character piece like this. The premise was nice, the characters well-developed and original, but... it just didn't work.

The whole point was for the death to be sad, am I correct? In that case, it should have been written like a regular story, beginning to end. And I'm sorry, but the deal with the names was just weird. Either they have names - right away - or they're the anonymous narrator types. You don't wait a hundred pages and then name them f
Overall liked it, but McDermott over-indulged herself this time with the too frequent time-shifting sequencing. A person could get dizzy being wapped back and forth with a character dead on one page and laughing on the next.
That aside, a pretty good read about the usual Irish family with required characters all in place. ie, the lovable bad boy drunk who breaks hearts, the religious nun or priest, the brave young girl barely entered womanhood seeking her way in America, the nosy neighbors, the d
Actually, didn't finish reading it, I think I was on about the 3rd chapter and gave up. Too much detail for me to wade through. Maybe I was unfair, but I had a chance to read another Louise Penny and was too eager to delay. I will try another of her novels later.
Mary Jane Csencsits
I enjoyed the writing and the insights into this family but I kept waiting for it to go somewhere. It never really did.
What is required for this book is patience. It is not a quick read. It is not Charming Billy. If you are familiar with Robert Olen Butler's view that the novel should be viewed as art like work in an art gallery or a composition of music, then At Weddings and Wakes would be such a book. These vignettes weave back and forth in time of one extended family with all its histories and complications. These very struggles often come to a climax or find some resolution in the most joyous and somber occa ...more
I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, I wasn't totally engrossed in the story, wasn't dying to get to the next chapter, and it didn't particularly change how I think about any particular topic. On the other hand, not much happens in the story and McDermott manages to make that "not much" very interesting through technically beautiful writing and attention to detail. In the hands of a lesser writer the story would have fallen apart and been terribly boring. She does manage to captur ...more
Maybe it was when I read this, or maybe I'm not as appreciative of these "sweeping family sagas" as I once was, but this was really a "meh" for me. It also took a lot of time for me to get into the story as I teased out the relationships between Momma and the aunts and the children and everyone else. The pacing,by nature slow, wasn't as much a problem as the time shifts were. As with who was who, when was when was occasionally a problem for me.

It's too bad, because previously I'd loved books th
Ma'lis Wendt
A slow paced story of three young Irish American children growing up in the late 50's/early60's on Long Island with relatives in Brooklyn. McDermott's stories are never total written in linear fashion and you never see the total picture until the end.
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Alice McDermott (born June 27, 1953) is Johns Hopkins University's Writer-in-Residence. Born in Brooklyn, New York, McDermott attended St. Boniface School in Elmont, Long Island, NY [1967], Sacred Heart Academy in Hempstead NY [1971], the State University of New York at Oswego, receiving her BA in 1975, and later received her MA from the University of New Hampshire in 1978.

She has taught at the UC
More about Alice McDermott...
Someone Charming Billy After This Child of My Heart That Night

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“It was as if he stopped time for them two weeks out of every year, cut them off from both the past and the future so that they had only this present in a brand-new place, this present in which her children sought the sight and the scent of her: a wonderful thing, when you noticed it. When the past and the future grew still enough to let you notice it. He did that for her. This man she'd married.” 2 likes
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