The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott Reviewed by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge

The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017. 247 pages; $26.00 (hardcover); reading level: adult.

In the opening chapter of this brilliant novel, set in Brooklyn in the first half of the 20th century, 32-year-old Jim commits suicide and three nuns sweep in to comfort his pregnant wife, who, in the final paragraph of the chapter, gives birth to a daughter.  The second chapter begins with the mysterious words “our father” leaving the reader (already a bit breathless after chapter 1) struggling to know who these new characters might be and how much time has elapsed. A mere 250 pages later, we have come to know four generations of a family and we have spent intimate time with the nuns inside a convent called the Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick and Poor.  We have seen the holy and the human rub shoulders, we have watched the faithful struggle to make sense of a good God in the midst of grinding life circumstances, we have experienced hopes realized, and hopes dashed. This is a novel for the most alert of readers, so compact that every word – whether of description, action, or explanation – is critical to the whole. McDermott has deftly woven an epic family saga and transcendent life questions into a tiny gem of a book.

Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge, Author

Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge

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