If you read a single book this year, read one by Alice McDermott. I read Charming Billy, which won the National Book Award, several years ago, and loved it; I just now finished After This, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. It might sound corny, but I am sitting here in total awe of Ms. McDermott's command of language and insight into life. She is one of those writers whose books might seem simple on first glance but resonate with amazing depths of meaning the more you think about them -- and think about them you must, because she doesn't spell things out for you. She reveals the sacredness of everyday life through echo and juxtaposition and innuendo. Her depictions of the complex relationships that link members of families -- in particular Irish Catholic ones -- are spot on in their nuances and evolutions. Her spare and elegant style shows a deep respect for and love of language. As she says in an engaging online interview for Powell's Books,
"I wouldn't want to spend the energy just telling a story. I've got to hear the rhythm of the sentences; I want the music of the prose. I want to see ordinary things transformed not by the circumstances in which I see them but by the language with which they're described. That's what I love when I read. It's too much work just to tell a story; there's not enough reward in it. The reward is when you know you've labored to make the best use of language you possibly can."
McDermott fully deserves the rewards she has earned. Read one of her books and you'll know what I'm talking about. As a writer, a mother and a Catholic who's not ashamed of her faith, she's my hero.