The Faith of the Novelist

By: Paul Elie

May 9, 2013

Explore the Series

This week’s Berkley Forum follows on a recent discussion with the novelist Alice McDermott on her body of work, its sources in her Catholic faith and in the modern literary tradition, and her forthcoming novel, Someone. As the moderator of the university’s ongoing Faith and Culture Series, I had the privilege of leading the conversation, and I have the privilege of taking it further here with three writers, all Georgetown faculty members, who were present at the event and a dinner afterward.

Maureen Corrigan (whose book on The Great Gatsby is forthcoming) looks back with McDermott to the spiritual yearnings of F. Scott Fitzgerald's protagonists. Peter Manseau (Rag and Bone and other works) sees McDermott’s work as falling congenially between two poles of recent American fiction dealing with religion, from Not at All (Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections) to All Over the Place (Amy Waldman’s The Submission). Myself, I try to describe the mysterious and to me challenging presentation of religious faith in her work, and try to explore the gap between religion bred in the bone and religion as an intellectual and moral problem. Samantha Pinto (assistant professor, English) takes up the tension between the striking variety of material in McDermott's work—which deals with Irish, women, Brooklyn, New York, middle class, mid-century, family, world of work, and so forth—and the expectation that the work can be comprehended through a single prism, in this instance that of faith.

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