Marie Commeford, daughter of Irish Catholic immigrants who grows up in Brooklyn, narrates her life story in episodes rich with reflection on the losses, failed fantasies, illnesses, and disappointments of a life at the edge of poverty, which is also rich with love and poetry and humor and the stuff of which wisdom is made.  The story unfolds as memory unfolds, in flashbacks and reconstructions shaped by a present vantage point from which it all assumes a certain mantle of grace.   From the opening story in which a neighbor girl slips on the steps to a basement apartment and is killed, to repeated glimpses of a blind veteran who umpires the neighborhood boys' street games, to the bereaved families Marie meets when she works for the local undertaker, to her gradual discovery of her brother's closeted homosexuality, and to her aging mother's death, the story keeps reminding us of how much of life is coming to terms with the "ills that flesh is heir to," and also how resilience grows in the midst of loss.  Because much of the story represents the vantage point of a child only partially protected from hard things, it invites us to reflect on how children absorb large and hard truths and learn to cope with them. 


This story, rich in incident and lively detail, reminds readers that illness, disability, and death we have always with us, and that learning, delight, romance, wisdom and joy grow along with capacity for sorrow.  The thread of humor that lightens the story comes to seem not only a testimony to survival, but a function of the way the narrator learns to face the hardest things.  The term that perhaps best describes this compelling novel is "human comedy."  It retrieves the broad sense of comedy-an idea with roots in two deeper, ancient ideas:  eros and grace.  A memorable read for anyone interested in reflection on how suffering occurs, as W. H. Auden put it, "how it takes place  / While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along . . . . "


Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Place Published

New York



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