Plot is in vogue these days, but while The Ninth Hour has a girl on a train — teenage Sally on a misbegotten, infernal trip to Chicago — McDermott largely eschews dramatic arcs. Instead, she fluidly pieces together seemingly minor events, gradually unfolding characters and relationships across decades, and gently but firmly wrestling with the issues they face. In so doing, she reminds us of the pleasures of literary fiction and its power to illuminate lives and worlds ... if McDermott shows the power of this collective of women to support each other and their community, she also reveals how the nuns struggle with — and ultimately find their own ways to reconcile themselves to — the limits of their vocation and each other ... Like James Joyce, whose Dubliners could serve as The Ninth Hour’s literary, historical, and ecclesiastical prequel, McDermott is a virtuoso of language and image, allusion and reflection, reference and symbol ... McDermott once again demonstrates her expansively attentive literary care and its quiet power.
...[a] superb and masterful new novel ... despite their vows, these women are as flawed and carnal as any of McDermott’s other brilliantly hewn characters ... There are so many ways to read this beautiful novel: as a Greek tragedy with its narrative chorus and the sins of the fathers; as a Faulknerian tale out to prove once more that the 'past is not even past'; as a gothic tale wrestling with faith, punishment and redemption à la Flannery O’Connor; or as an Irish novel in the tradition of Anne Enright and Colm Tóibín, whose sentences, like hers, burn on the page. But The Ninth Hour is also a love story, told at a languid, desultory pace and fulfilled most satisfyingly at the end.
God is definitely in the details in this book, named for the hour of afternoon prayer. McDermott vividly describes the ministrations involved in 'an invalid's cosseted routine' — including blood-stained bedclothes and eruptive bowels. In her hands, the unending round of the convent laundry becomes a riveting read ... By immersing readers in such homely details, The Ninth Hour, like Colm Toíbín's Brooklyn, evokes a narrowly confined, simpler, largely bygone world. But McDermott also addresses big, universal questions — about what constitutes a good life, and about how to live with the knowledge of 'that stillness, that inconsequence, that feral smell of death.' Her novel encompasses base hungers, sin, guilt, reparations, secrets, and depression — so little understood at the time. And more: The Ninth Hour is also about love, both forbidden and sanctioned, albeit with the caveat that 'Love's a tonic ... not a cure.' This enveloping novel, too, is a tonic, if not a cure.
Ms. McDermott’s range may be confined, but she sees a world within those dusty parish halls, tenements, bars and funeral homes whose interest is inexhaustible. With the precision of a master—never over-reaching for significance or relaxing into sentimentality—Ms. McDermott lays bare the reasons why those 'small lives' matter ... A great McDermott novel—and The Ninth Hour is a great one—makes you realize the wisdom of her decision to stay put in the old neighborhood ... Female self-sacrifice—its allure and moral complications—is Ms. McDermott’s overarching subject here. As Mary Gordon did almost 40 years ago in her now classic debut, Final Payments, Ms. McDermott brilliantly dramatizes the pull, especially on loving Catholic daughters, of martyrdom ... Ms. McDermott has once again managed a marvelous literary feat: She’s written another one of those 'parochial' novels of hers whose reach is universal.
Alice McDermott’s new novel, The Ninth Hour, is about the ghosts that haunt lives down the decades, especially in families. Ghosts, like the one in the courtyard, that seem to appear as visions, but, even more, the ghosts of actions taken, choices made ...a jagged, unsettling novel that tells the stories of two families as far back as the Civil War and as far forward as the present day, all in 247 pages ... There is no central figure, but large roles are played by Sally and Annie and several nuns... On McDermott’s pages, these sisters feel and act out of greed and compassion, love and the desire for control, pity and anger.
Problematical and complex versions of sacrifice and their ramifications run through this book ... Such fascination with sacrifice and its endless demands — willingly embraced, reluctantly endured, or guiltily refused — belongs to the Catholic Church of an earlier age and to a vanished sensibility and milieu, all evoked to perfection by McDermott. This is an exquisitely deep novel and a triumph.
Not much happens to the Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor, the stars of Alice McDermott's new novel The Ninth Hour — they live to serve others. But plenty has happened to those in their care ... Sin and virtue drive the novel, and though several characters commit serious transgressions — at least in the eyes of the church — they are more often motivated by love than hate ...has as much affection for her characters as they have for one another. Although the plot can be bleak, it offers just enough warmth to nurture hope ...a story with the simple grace of a votive candle in a dark church.
Alice McDermott has taken the risk of writing about nuns, and the risk has been more than worth it. Known and admired for her portrayal of Irish-American family life, she has now extended her range and deepened it, allowing for more darkness, more generous lashings of the spiritual ... It’s the convent laundry that provides the setting for some of McDermott’s most vivid and arresting descriptions. Like Homer in the Iliad, with his catalog of ships, she presents us with a list of the riches of the convent laundress’s magic potions ... Although I admire the sweep of The Ninth Hour, I’m uneasy with McDermott’s storytelling strategy. One of Sally’s children narrates intermittently, but for the literal-minded among us it seems unlikely that a third party could provide the intimate details that so enrich the novel, or be so familiar with the other characters’ inner lives. If this is meant to be a metafictional move, it’s not meta enough, since most of the novel operates in a formally realistic fashion. And what McDermott achieves most splendidly is the hyper-realistic portrayal of the grim, often disgusting aspects of illness and death among the poor.
Told from the first in McDermott’s careful way, observing but with a certain intimacy, the story is set in motion by a suicide that leaves Annie, a pregnant, very young widow, alone in the world, at the mercy of circumstance ... Almost at once we encounter the tension that runs through the book, creating suspense of a metaphysical sort. With the Catholic Church as template, each character struggles to balance the physical against the spiritual, the earthly against the heavenly ... we begin to understand how the story has been spun, knitted together from a family’s memories — a fiction, really, but no less of a world, and no less true, for that.
Midway through The Ninth Hour, Alice McDermott's brilliant new novel set in the early 20th century, teenage Sally accompanies Sister Lucy on the nun's visits to run-down Brooklyn, N.Y., tenement houses ...it is this dichotomy, the conflict between the corporeal and the spiritual, the desire for companionship and belonging versus a higher calling, that McDermott explores in what is perhaps her finest work to date ... From Jim's shocking suicide, McDermott fashions a riveting story that moves back and forth in time, spans multiple generations and shows the limits of faith and the challenge in maintaining it ... The Ninth Hour has its flaws.
In this enveloping, emotionally intricate, suspenseful drama, McDermott lures readers into her latest meticulously rendered Irish American enclave, returning to early twentieth-century Brooklyn ... Like Alice Munro, McDermott is profoundly observant and mischievously witty, a sensitive and consummate illuminator of the realization of the self, the ravages of illness and loss, and the radiance of generosity. As she considers the struggles of women, faith and inheritance, sacrifice and passion, she pays vivid tribute to the skilled and sustaining sisters, a fading social force. McDermott’s extraordinary precision, compassion, and artistry are entrancing and sublime.
...a beautifully crafted depiction of a cloister of nuns in early 20th-century Brooklyn as they move in and out of the lives of a young Irish widow and her daughter ... McDermott illuminates everyday scenes with such precise, unadorned descriptions that the reader feels he or she is there, hidden in the background. The agony of the sick in body or mind, the guilt over ignoring church doctrine, the power of love to erase loneliness—each is treated with McDermott’s exquisite language, tinged with her signature wit. Her latest is highly recommended—a novel to savor and to share.
This seamlessly written new work from National Book Award winner McDermott asks how much we owe others, how much we owe ourselves, and, of course, McDermott’s consistent attention to the Catholic faith, how much we owe God ... In lucid, flowing prose, McDermott weaves her character’ stories to powerful effect. Highly recommended.
Partly told by a voice from the future who drops tantalizing hints about what’s to come—for example, a marriage between the occupants of the baby carriages—this novel reveals its ideas about love and morality through the history of three generations, finding them in their kitchens, sickbeds, train compartments, love nests, and basement laundry rooms. Everything that her readers, the National Book Award committee, and the Pulitzer Prize judges love about McDermott’s stories of Irish-Catholic American life is back in her eighth novel.
...an immense, brilliant novel about the limits of faith, the power of sacrifice, and the cost of forgiveness ... The novel jumps around in time and spans three generations, exploring the paths of Annie, Sally, and Sally’s children. But it’s the thread that follows Sally’s coming of age and eventual lapse of faith that is the most absorbing. Scenes detailing her benevolent encounters, especially her stint taking care of cantankerous and one-legged Mrs. Costello, are paradoxically grotesque and irresistible. As in her other novels, McDermott exhibits a keen eye for character, especially regarding the nuns.