“The Glorious Impossible”

Belief and Ambiguity in the Fiction of Alice McDermott

in Religion and the Arts
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Alice McDermott’s work is often cited as being an exemplar of the best that contemporary Catholic literature has to offer, and yet sustained close readings of her fiction are lacking. In this essay, I discuss how her work fits in the larger conversation about contemporary literature of belief, focusing on her novels Charming Billy and Someone. In Charming Billy, McDermott connects the act of storytelling to the practice of belief, emphasizing how what we choose to believe affects how we act. In Someone, she uses the form of the novel to depict the patterns of grace that are present in our life, whether we are consciously aware of them or not. Both novels allow for the possibility of the divine presence at work in the world, but her characters’ struggles over what to believe and how to act on these beliefs reflect the tensions of faith in the modern age.

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