Books: The Family That Drifts Together

In a wise new novel, life happens, haphazardly

Alice McDermott is one of those writers who take seriously the injunction to write about what you know. The intricately beset realm of Irish Americans in New York City and on Long Island is the world she grew up in. It's that same world she has offered us, newly lighted, examined and even transfigured, in five earlier novels, including Charming Billy, a National Book Award winner in 1998.

In After This (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; 279 pages), she is settled in once more among her postwar Catholics, telling the story of John and Mary Keane and their four children, a family...

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