Alice McDermott’s After This takes readers on a compelling journey through several decades with a young couple as they meet, marry, and raise a family. The story begins with Mary Rose, a thirty-something single woman who wonders if she will ever wed. World War II has marred the lives of many of the men of her generation, much as the Vietnam War will affect the lives of her children. Although McDermott is careful to explain small details, the major events in characters’ lives, such as how Mary Rose meets John Keane, are not explained. Mary and John Keane are married by the end of the second chapter, and the rest of the novel explores the quiet suburban lives of the Irish-Catholic family this couple will produce.
The Keanes raise four children, two girls and two boys, who take divergent paths that sometimes please their parents but often do not. One child dies in the war in Vietnam; another becomes pregnant while still in high school. Readers catch glimpses of Mary’s first pregnancy, the arrival of the couple’s fourth child, a trip to the New York World Fair, plans to build a new community church, and several incidents at school—each reported in a soft voice by a third-person narrator who passes no judgment or evaluation.