Full of Books

That Night by Alice McDermott Review

Title: That Night

Author: Alice McDermott

First published January 1, 1987

192 pages, Paperback

ISBN: 9780747568247 (ISBN10: 0747568243)

Rating: 3.62


On a tranquil summer evening, the calming hum of crickets is interrupted by the roar of motorcycles. Abruptly, a bike skids onto a family’s pristine lawn, a group of teenagers jump off with tattoos and piercings, and a young man shouts for the girl of his dreams.

Fathers will grab hammers and wrenches to protect their homes, and youngsters will witness a clash fueled by unwavering, genuine passion. This is the night that will forever be etched in their minds as the turning point in their lives.

About the Author

Meet Alice McDermott, a renowned writer who currently holds the position of Writer-in-Residence at Johns Hopkins University. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, McDermott attended St. Boniface School in Elmont, Long Island, graduating in 1967, and later attended Sacred Heart Academy in Hempstead, NY, graduating in 1971.

She went on to receive her BA from the State University of New York at Oswego in 1975, and later earned her MA from the University of New Hampshire in 1978.

Throughout her career, McDermott has taught at various institutions, including UCSD and American University, and has also served as a writer-in-residence at Lynchburg and Hollins Colleges in Virginia. Additionally, she was a lecturer in English at the University of New Hampshire.

Her short stories have been featured in several publications, such as Ms., Redbook, Mademoiselle, and Seventeen.

McDermott has received numerous accolades for her work, including the prestigious Whiting Writers Award in 1987. She has also been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction three times.

Today, she resides outside of Washington with her husband, a neuroscientist, and their three children.

Editoral Review

In Alice McDermott’s debut novel, “That Night,” published in 1987, the author weaves a coming-of-age story with themes of love, loss, and growing up in the 1960s. McDermott’s writing style is lush and poetic, with an eye for detail that captures the essence of her characters’ worlds.

The story revolves around the character of Theresa, a young girl growing up in Queens, NY, in the 1960s. Through her eyes, we see the world of her working-class, Irish-Catholic family and the social and cultural landscape of the time.

We learn about her struggles with her parents, her friendships with other girls, and her budding relationship with a boy from the neighborhood. There is an underlying sense of darkness and tragedy present from the beginning of the novel, and as the story progresses, we see how the events of one fateful night fundamentally change the course of Theresa’s life.

McDermott handles these events with sensitivity and care, painting a portrait of a young girl grappling with grief, guilt, and the mysteries of growing up. One of the strengths of “That Night” is McDermott’s ability to create fully realized characters.

Theresa’s family and friends are all complex and nuanced individuals, each with their own hopes and struggles. The author’s use of language is also a notable strength, with passages that are both poetic and deeply affecting.

However, the novel’s slow pacing may be a weakness for some readers. McDermott takes her time building the story and developing the characters, which can make the novel feel meandering at times.

Additionally, some may find the ending unsatisfying, as the events of the final chapters wrap up in a way that feels abrupt and unresolved. “That Night” holds particular significance in its portrayal of working-class Irish-American families in the 1960s.

Through Theresa’s experiences, we see how the socioeconomic and cultural factors of the time impacted the lives of those living in these communities. Additionally, the novel touches on themes of social class, gender roles, and the role of the Catholic Church in shaping the lives of its adherents.

Overall, “That Night” is a beautifully written novel that captures the essence of a particular time and place. While some readers may find the slow pacing and unsatisfying conclusion challenging, this novel stands as an excellent example of literary fiction that explores the depths of the human experience.

For readers of literary fiction who appreciate lush prose and complex characters, “That Night” is an excellent read.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars.