The Ninth Hour
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 aging 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 center of the story to the nuns whose personalities we come to know and love to the neighborhood 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.
NOMINATING LIBRARY 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. Everyday 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.