The Ninth Hour - Alice McDermott
Alice McDermott’s The Ninth Hour (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26) is a stunning novel. Stunning in its intelligence. Stunning in its compassion. Stunning in its lucidity and clear-eyed storytelling. As the story begins, a young man commits suicide and inadvertently sets his apartment on fire. When his young, pregnant wife learns of it, she is immediately taken under the wing of an elderly Catholic nun, Sister St. Savior, whose vocation is to tend to people undergoing tragedy. With her baby girl in tow, the young widow finds work in the convent laundry and she and her daughter become part of the sisters’ community. That child, Polly, aspires to a clerical vocation, but her idealism pales with her understanding of the religious life and she falls in love and gets married. That this short novel can span an entire generation with such unerring economy and power is truly a testament to McDermott’s skill. Like the best of her earlier books, The Ninth Hour is a literary treasure.