Book Review by Leslie Finkel
The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott
I was taught by Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and by the Order of Franciscans through the 1950s and ‘60’s so I have a 12 years’ experience of their demeanor and vocation and their patience with the antics I and my friends brought into their classrooms. One of the regrets of my life is how we treated them — we, who understood nothing of their sacrifices. Through a combination of fear and love, they taught us how to concentrate, how to be still, how to listen. In a very literal sense, they gave all of their lives to us.
The Ninth Hour begins with a suicide in early twentieth-century Brooklyn and then shows how that act, quickly forgotten by the larger world, infiltrates the lives of two families and one convent house of Catholic nuns. Sally, the daughter of the man who committed suicide is the primary character of the novel, but that can be a misleading description because the characters of the nuns, a large family, Sally’s mother, and others are drawn with such compassionate respect for their own individuality that we feel as if we know well a whole small cosmos of people by the time we come to the end.
This is a quiet book, but it understands that what really forms the center of our lives is always personal, intimate, fundamental like forgiveness and mercy and simple endurance when life’s circumstances turn unfortunate. This is a quiet book but one with a great heart. It left its mark on me.