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At Weddings and Wakes

3.52  ·  Rating details ·  1,317 ratings  ·  137 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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3.52  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,317 ratings  ·  137 reviews

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Will Byrnes
Oct 29, 2008 rated it liked it
Alice McDermott - image from

This is a portrait of an Irish family in the near suburbs of New York. In fact it was a little unclear to me what was in the urban suburbs and what was in the city. Several generations are represented, and tales are told of marriages, good and failed, deaths, hopes. It is nicely written, although I found that I got generationally confused at times, uncertain whether the tale being told was that of a contemporary of an older person. Still, in all, I enj
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
Nov 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Jumpy and almost entirely in the "now" of life. Without knowing what is forward coming, and in the minutia of all the moments that are repeated. And repeated. The rituals, the core of connections for this family- especially with the sisters and Momma!

This is a novel that some will find extremely boring, I know it. I find it utterly enthralling. In detail after detail so immensely accurate to a time and place. And to an entire set of "eyes" that were shared by thousands and thousands. Life and d
Aug 13, 2012 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
Sally Brock
Feb 19, 2013 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
May 09, 2014 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
Mar 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
At Weddings and Wakes is Alice McDermott's third novel, published in 1992. It's a novel that will likely appeal to admirers of McDermott's other novels, and likely won't appeal to readers who found McDermott's other novels boring or uneventful.

At Weddings and Wakes is told through the shards of childhood memories of two sisters and their brother, now presumably adults. Like most childhood memories, their memories often seem incomplete and fogged, mixing together the seemingly trivial with major
May 02, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
At Weddings and Wakes reads like a preparatory novel to Charming Billy . I understand why the former has remained a critical darling: the prose is striking and tender, the scenes somehow encapsulate an entire generational milieu, it’s sad and poetic.

But it’s too poetic for this reader; or rather, it tries too hard to be. In spite of the lovely writing, it’s overly ephemeral, abstract even. There’s little plot, which would be fine if there was something to hold on to; there isn’t much. The weake
Renee Babcock
I wanted to like this more. It is beautifully written no doubt. But I felt the prettiness of the language prevented me from making an emotional connection to the characters. I've enjoyed others of her books but this wasn't quite the one for me.
Jun 25, 2009 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
Jun 18, 2015 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.
Sharon Huether
Jan 08, 2016 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.
Jan 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
4 out of 5 stars, mostly for the writing which is a bit choppy but sometimes reaches very high levels. It's less a story than an exposition of New York City life in the 1950's/1960's through the eyes of the child of an Irish immigrant family that's suffered some tragedies. Very detailed descriptions which are sometimes comic, but more often elegiac, of trips on bus and subway to visit a grandmother and several aunts in Brooklyn and by car to the shore for vacation on the far end of Long Island. ...more
Mar 04, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I found the surfeit of details too tedious to go on reading. The story failed to draw me in.
Jean Brown
Nov 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
4 Stars
Jan 21, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: adult-literature
Quiet descriptions. And cottages. Those are the good parts. This might be the quietest book I've ever read.
Jan 02, 2014 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
Tamara Dahling
Apr 04, 2016 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
Jun 07, 2013 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
Jul 27, 2008 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
Aug 31, 2013 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 rated it liked it
Shelves: modern-lit
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
Jan 14, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
Lovely prose, but the sentences the lovely prose was in were often reeeeeeeeeeealllllllllllly loooooooooooooooong. And whatever train of thought that was introduced in the beginning of the sentence had long left the station by the time the period came around. The children characters were never named, at least not in the part I read before I gave it up. Shifting back and forth between past and present made it hard to follow. I finally quit because my head was spinning, trying to keep track of the ...more
Mar 13, 2009 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.

Jan 03, 2009 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.
May 27, 2014 rated it did not like it
Maybe people like being bored? Not sure how else to explain why people seem to enjoy this book.
Feb 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Kathy Ryan Rodenbach
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
This is a beautifully written, in-depth view of a brief period of time in the life of an Irish family living in Brooklyn in the early 1960s. Most of the story is presented through the perspective of Lucy Dailey's three children, Margaret, Maryanne and Bobby. The children see what is going on during their family visits, but they don't understand the lives of the adults. Lucy's sisters May, Veronica and Agnes still live with their step-mother in the same apartment that they lived in as children. T ...more
Nicholas Montemarano
This is a lovely, quiet novel that bears rereading. As I read it, though I enjoyed the prose and descriptions, and though the novel provides many moment-by-moment pleasures, I kept thinking: This is a bit slow.

I hate that I thought this because I'm usually someone who loves novels about which other readers might say: it's a bit slow. Or: it jumps around too much. Or: it doesn't have much "plot."

And yet when I reached this novel's last words in its appropriately understated and quiet scene (a sce
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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
“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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