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At Weddings and Wakes
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At Weddings and Wakes

3.50  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,009 Ratings  ·  101 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 ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published May 5th 2003 by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (first published April 1st 1992)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,980)
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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
Feb 19, 2013 Sally Brock rated it really liked it
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
Aug 17, 2012 Leslie rated it it was ok
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
Jul 15, 2009 Peggy rated it really liked it
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
Jan 02, 2014 Jennifer rated it it was amazing
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
May 11, 2014 Marilyn rated it really liked it
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
Sharon Huether
Jan 09, 2016 Sharon Huether rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
The children, three of them tell the story of their mother, her two sisters and their mother through the innocent observations. They formed opinions, likes and dislikes.
It was their eye for the smallest detail that they remembered and cherished.
The author did such a good job of making this story so fresh.
Jun 18, 2015 Eric rated it really liked it
Alice delivers again. Among her many insights, so superbly put: "She had inherited her mother's easy access to regret." The depth McDermott achieves in this shifting narrative across multiple levels of family dynamics -- parent-child, siblings, step-relations, spouses -- over such a short narrative, is astonishing.
Sep 18, 2013 Janice rated it really liked it
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
Mar 18, 2013 April rated it liked it
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
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
Jul 27, 2008 Mary rated it really liked it
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
Apr 20, 2016 Diana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 06, 2009 Kristine rated it really liked it
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.
Mar 13, 2009 Jeanne added it
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
Jun 30, 2014 Linda Howe Steiger rated it liked it
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
Oct 01, 2012 Diane rated it liked it
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
May 26, 2009 Danielle rated it it was ok
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
Sep 16, 2007 rinabeana rated it liked it
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
Tamara Dahling
May 20, 2016 Tamara Dahling rated it really liked it
Alice McDermott novels are a bit like fine chocolate because as soon as you finish one, you want to go back and experience it all over again. This is my third McDermott and my least favorite, but that does not mean it isn't good (I'd give it 4.5 stars if I could). It's just not as good as Charming Billy or Someone, which were extraordinary. At Weddings and Wakes takes us into the relationships in a family who live out their lives between weddings and wakes as really, when you stop to think about ...more
Apr 23, 2011 Martin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 06, 2014 Melanie Griffin rated it liked it
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
Nov 11, 2014 Cathy rated it really liked it
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 could appreciate this book but didn't love it. McDermott brilliant told the tale from such distance it was a challenge to follow and absorb. The biggest trouble I had with the book was the chapter about the ghost (or whatever) in the window, still trying to figure out how or why that fit in.
Jun 09, 2013 Patricia rated it really liked it
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
Apr 22, 2015 Caitlin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Alice McDermott can create a sense of place like almost no one else, and her minutely observed descriptions of people and use of language are head and shoulders above the skills of most writers. Unfortunately, in the case of At Weddings and Wakes, all of that was not enough to overcome what at times felt like a glacial pace and, more important, a terribly awkwardly executed shift in time. The way she handled the fate of one of the main characters was both confusing and, ultimately, took away fro ...more
Apr 16, 2014 Linda rated it liked it
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.
May 02, 2016 Ashraks rated it it was ok
The repetitive nature of one irish family's life shown through the eyes of 3 children as their mother Lucy Towne makes weekly visits to her step mother and sisters was engaging at first but turned challenging to get through. A tough tale to get through.
S.K. Kalsi
Nov 06, 2014 S.K. Kalsi rated it really liked it
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
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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...

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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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