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Alice McDermott's Fiction

Voice, Memory, Trauma, and Lies

Gail Shanley Corso

In Alice McDermott’s Fiction, contributors explore the emotional pain, the uncertainty about identity, and the faulty relationships within families and communities of characters in the writer’s work. In the Foreword, Monica McGoldrick identifies how complications such characters as in McDermott’s fiction experience often relate to "reverberations of the pain and shame of their Irish ancestors that have been silenced over time." The aftermath of lies, self-deception, and trauma are analyzed, and McDermott’s themes, stylistics, and aesthetics are identified: familial relationships in second- and third-generation Irish-American families; trauma that characters experience when living their lives of repressed feelings or conflicted self-identity—or forgotten cultural identity; silence in families and inauthentic relationships between mothers and daughters; propensity for characters to lie to show care and concern for another and to cling to mythical images of a patriarchal hero; allusions to Catholic ritual and belief; conflict of female characters as they grapple with choice and autonomy; wit and farce as social commentary; craft with spontaneity and recursion in her narrative structures; emblematic use of peak moments as significant to memory; use of stealth narrators; use of allusions wryly to provide for an astute reader the intertextuality of her stories; repetitive metaphoric use of language to indirectly reveal truth; and, finally, focus on art or telling the story to compensate for sorrow from loss and death. As McDermott’s characters grapple with their trauma and loss, the redemptive quality of the arts is identified.

Monica McGoldrick: Foreword – Acknowledgments – Gail Shanley Corso: Alice McDermott: A Chronology of the Writer’s Life – Gail Shanley Corso: Introduction: "What is not said than what is said?": Begorrah! – Segment One: Multidisciplinary Interpretations of Pretense and Lies in Alice McDermott’s Fiction – Colleen McDonough: "Not what it seemed": Pretense and Identity in A Bigamist’s Daughter – Martin LoMonaco – Understanding the Rhetoric of the Lie in Alice McDermott’s Charming Billy: The Context of the Redemption Cycle and Irish-American Culture – Suzanne Mayer: The Narrator as Angelus Novus: Collective Memory, Truth, and Lies in Charming Billy – Segment Two: Dialogue and Silence as Forms of Communication in Alice McDermott’s Fiction – Gail Shanley Corso: Go Ask Alice: Dialogue With Alice McDermott on May 10, 2011, at Johns Hopkins University Homewood Campus, Baltimore, Maryland – Edward Hagan: Narration as Experience of Simultaneity in Alice McDermott’s Someone – Gail Shanley Corso: The Cry of the Banshee: The Keen of Pain and Loss in "I Am Awake" – Gail Shanley Corso/Colleen McDonough: Lois as Separate and Silent: Liberation From and Ambivalence to the Categorical Imperative in Alice McDermott’s "Robert of the Desert" – Segment Three: Memory, Loss, and Trauma in Alice McDermott’s Fiction – Suzanne Mayer: Celibate Bride, Shrewish Sage, and Fey Cousins: Intergenerational Trauma Among the Women of McDermott’s Novels, Charmin Billy and Child of My Heart – Claudia Marie Kovach: Love and Grief: Recollection, Reiteration, and Replication in Alice McDermott’s That Night – Appendix – Alice McDermott: Appendix A: "I Am Awake" – Alice McDermott: Appendix B: "Robert of the Desert" – Contributors – Index.