You wouldn’t think in the 21st century that it would be seen as an act of conceit to write a novel from one common woman’s point of view, but that’s how author Alice McDermott perceives her seventh novel, Someone (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Sept.). “I think in some ways it’s a lot of hubris to be a woman writer and write an entire novel from the point of view of a very ordinary woman who is not terribly concerned with war and politics, but with matters of the heart,” she tells Show Daily. “This is a book I always wanted to write in that it’s a single woman’s voice over time—a woman whose voice is not heard much in her own lifetime.”
McDermott is a professor in the writing seminars program at Johns Hopkins University and notes that her female students believe they have to either write from a man’s point of view or include the male viewpoint in their work. “They feel that makes them more serious. They have the fear of being accused of writing ‘chick lit’ if they write exclusively from a woman’s point of view or about a female character’s life and concerns.”
The award-winning writer, several of whose books have been finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, has no fears in that arena. She explains what specifically inspired her to write Someone. “I started writing this novel because of a phrase that I wanted to make use of and that I loved. The phrase was, ‘Parlor floor and basement,’ as in ‘What apartment do they live in? Oh, they live in the parlor floor and basement.’ There’s the sense of propriety in ‘parlor floor,’ but then, ‘and basement,’ and all the implications of basements. It also made me aware of the language of [the character’s] time and place [Brooklyn in the 20th century], and of her sensibility—the likes of which we may not hear again.”
McDermott’s writing routine includes working on two books at the same time. “It’s a terrible way to work,” she admits, ‘but it’s something I fell into with my second novel. I seem to need to have the reassurance that if I want to trash one, I’ll still have another one that’s alive and breathing.”
McDermott was at BEA several years ago in Washington, D.C. “It was overwhelming, as I recall, but once I got over the size of everything and found my little niche at the FSG booth and started to do the book signing, it was lovely, because it was one familiar person after another coming up and chatting.” She is signing ARCs of Someone at the FSG booth (1557) this morning at 9:30 a.m.