Nominated by:

Toronto Public Library, Canada

Milwaukee Public Library, USA

Publisher of nominated edition:

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, USA

The Ninth Hour

Alice McDermott      

On a dim winter afternoon, a young Irish immigrant opens the gas taps in his Brooklyn tenement. He is determined to prove—to the subway bosses who have recently fired him, to his pregnant wife—“that the hours of his life belong to himself alone.” In the aftermath of the fire that follows, Sister St. Savior, an ageing nun appears, unbidden, to direct the way forward for his widow and his unborn child.We begin deep inside Catholic Brooklyn, in the early part of the twentieth century. Decorum, superstition, and shame collude to erase the man’s brief existence.

Yet his suicide, although never spoken of, reverberates through many lives and over the decades testing the limits and the demands of love and sacrifice, of forgiveness and forgetfulness, even through multiple generations.The characters we meet, from Sally, the unborn baby at the beginning of the novel, who becomes the centre of the story to the nuns whose personalities we come to know and love to the neighbourhood families with whose lives they are entwined, are all rendered with extraordinary sympathy and McDermott’s trademark lucidity and intelligence. Alice McDermott’s The Ninth Hour is a crowning achievement by one of the premiere writers at work in America today.

About the Author

Alice McDermott is the author of several novels, including After This; Child of My Heart; Charming Billy, winner of the 1998 National Book Award; and At Weddings and Wakes, all published by FSG. That Night, At Weddings and Wakes, and After This were all finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. McDermott lives with her family outside Washington, D.C.

Librarians’ comments:

Set in early 20th century Irish Brooklyn – rendered in meticulous, often grim, detail – McDermott has constructed a generous and compassionate novel around the lives and works of the nuns of the Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor and those in their care. In simple yet sublime prose, the novel explores timeless themes: What constitutes a virtuous life? What do we owe others, ourselves and God? What are the limits of forgiveness?

In this emotionally complex, suspenseful drama, readers are lured into a meticulously rendered Irish American enclave, in early twentieth – century Brooklyn. Every day scenes are illuminated through precise descriptions via exquisite language and tinged with wit. Her keen eye for character is especially evident in her portrayal of the nuns.


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