Review: The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott

by Becky
Published: Last Updated on

Why: I  came across this article on Book Bub about new fall fiction and The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott caught my eye. While still in my wheelhouse of historical fiction, this is a a far cry from a WWII novel. As I read the teaser, there was a hint of mystery to the plot as well as an intriguing nod to the effects of time and actions on future generations. More and more family legacy stories have made their way onto my reading list lately!

The madness with which suffering was dispersed in the world defied logic. There was nothing else like it for unevenness.

Story: McDermott shares the story of Jim’s family beginning with his decision to commit suicide. The repercussions of this act ripple into generations to come, beginning with his wife, Annie, and unborn daughter, Sally. These women are shaped considerably by an order of nursing nuns and their lives become interlaced with the convent and its inhabitants. Captured on the pages are the struggles to find themselves when there is an element missing but not discussed. There are both the will to honor and atone for the past, and the desire to create a life that has color and fullness. While life goes on, decades go by before there is any closure to Jim’s short existence.

Life is like the blink of an eye.

Opinion: I did not enjoy this book as one enjoys dessert, but more as one who knows the nutritional values of vegetables. There is a rawness and honesty to this novel that challenged me and brought each character to life as if I knew them personally. McDermott does an incredible job of describing her character’s motives and personalities without spoon-feeding the reader. It is as if she’s asking the reader to empathize and experience the book as opposed to simply reading it. One technique I see as critical to the success of this novel is the point of view. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I will just describe it as being detached but also extremely personal.

To gain heaven was no wonder if heaven could not also be lost.

Recommendation: This is not a read to be tackled lightly. It isn’t extremely lengthy and reads relatively smoothly, but the content will beg time to be digested. I would recommend this for more mature readers who are not in a hurry to get through a read. It also revolves around a couple of trigger topics – suicide and religion – and may provoke upsetting thoughts for some readers. That said, however, I found those topics to be handled in a manner was respectful, with what I interpreted as a desire to push characters and readers to think more deeply. My advanced English nerdiness comes out when I consider how this could broken down and studied over the course of a week or two!

Truth reveals itself. It’s really quite amazing. … In all her simplicity, old Sister Jeanne told us, “It’s really that simple.”

Journaling Prompts: (If you haven’t read any of my other reviews, I enjoy putting together a few questions about the book for those that have already read, or choose to read the book after viewing this post!)

  1. Describe Jim. What words or feelings best explain your opinion of this character?
  2. Women are portrayed in a variety of ways throughout this book. Discuss some of the passages that show a weakness to women, as well as some that show women’s incredible strength.
  3. Why does Sally need the trip to Chicago? How does it change her? How does it change Annie?
  4. What are the roles of each of the nuns depicted in this novel? Think of Illuminata, Jeanne, St. Saviour, Lucy, etc.
  5. How does the novel’s point of view affect your interpretation of the story?
  6. What are you thoughts on the conclusion of the novel?

Special thanks to Farrar Straus Giroux for the book in exchange for my review!

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