The main setting for After This is New York City and Long Island, although those physical locales do not have much affect on the story. Readers are vaguely aware of where the characters live, but the novel’s events could take place in any big city or in any suburb.

What plays a bigger role is the book’s general time period, which extends between World War II and the Vietnam War. The wars profoundly affect every character directly or indirectly. The soldiers who come home are unable to readjust to normal life, and the soldiers who do not make it home leave irreparable holes in the families they have left behind. The time period’s moral and social conventions of (particularly those of the 1950s and 1960s) also strongly influence the characters. For example, a woman in her thirties, it is implied, should be married, and a husband should be responsible for bringing home money.

Ideas for Group Discussions

1. How would you describe the relationship between Mary Keane and Pauline? What is Mary’s attraction to Pauline? Why does Pauline like to be around Mary? How are the two women alike? How do they differ?

2. How devoutly religious are the various members of the Keane family? How do they interact with the church? Does this change over time?

3. The author abruptly jumps from Mary’s dating George to her marriage to John without providing any information about what happens to George and how John came into her life. Why do you think the author does this? Why introduce George at all if he is of little significance? Why does she not explain Mary’s courtship with John?

4. Why do you think Annie, the oldest girl in the Keane family, goes to bed with a total stranger, whom she describes in negative terms the first time she sees him? Why does she settle for less than her dreams? In what ways are her approaches to life negative?

5. What are the chances that Clare (the youngest daughter) and Gregory will make successful parents? Do you think they are in love? Do you think Gregory went into this marriage willingly? Why do you think Clare kept her pregnancy a secret for so long, too long to do anything about it? If Annie, Clare’s older sister, had been around, do you think Clare would have gone through with the pregnancy? Why or why not?

6. Why do you think John Keane was so attached to the young soldier who was killed in World War II that he named his firstborn son, Jacob, after him? What did John see in the young soldier? Why was he so affected by his death? Do you think that in naming his son Jacob, John cursed him?

7. Compare the Keanes’ second oldest son, Michael, with Damien, the older man who owned the bar. What do you think Damien represents? How does his character differ from Michael’s? Do they treat women the same? Would you guess they have similar life philosophies?

8. Discuss McDermott’s writing style. Do you think she is a good storyteller? Does she keep you wanting to turn the page to see what happens next? Does her writing create strong images in your mind? Is she easy to read? Does she present strong characters that you care about?

9. Discuss the characters in this story. Who is your favorite and why? What traits of this character do you identify with? Which of the characters do you think will find the most success? Which one bores you? Which one, if he or she were real, might become a friend? Which one is the weakest?

10. What roles do the minor characters play? Why do you think the author includes such people as Susan (who had the abortion), the neighbor Mr. Persichetti, and Professor Wallace and her husband David in London? How do they move the story forward? What themes or issues do they broaden?

Ideas for Reports and Papers

1. Read about soldiers returning from both World War II and the Vietnam War. What receptions did they receive at the end of each war? How did these receptions differ? How were they the same? Were the psychological problems the soldiers from both wars experienced similar? Write up your findings and present them to your class.

2. Gather information about the differences between 1950s and 1960s U.S. culture. What were some of the major changes between how the average U.S. family lived in 1950 and how it lived in 1969? Look into the technological advances between these two dates. How did they affect families? What was happening politically in these two decades? What kind of music were teenagers listening to? What were the clothes like? Bring in as much information as you can find that demonstrates the changes that occurred and present them to your class.

3. Read McDermott’s National Book Award–winning novel Charming Billy, and then write a paper that compares that novel with After This. How do the families that are presented in both the novels compare? Does the plot stand out in Charming Billy, or is it subdued, as in After This? Turn your paper in to your teacher.

4. Mary Keane and Pauline are very different in their personalities and in the way they look at life. Choose a partner and write a dialogue between these two characters, expressing how they feel about men. Then deliver your short scene in front of your class.

Related Titles / Adaptations

Edna O’Brien in her book The Light of Evening (2007) writes about a Catholic family living in Ireland. This award-winning novelist tells the story of Dilly, a mother who is lying in a hospital bed awaiting her daughter. As she waits, she flashes back to her own past as well as to her relationship with her daughter. Both mother and daughter have gone through tremendous changes—some joyful, others tragic.

Charming Billy (1998) is Alice McDermott’s National Book Award–winning novel. In this book, McDermott starts off with Billy’s death, the result of alcoholism. At his funeral, friends and family gather and reminisce about this charismatic character. As the stories are shared, Billy’s life is illuminated. His struggles for love and his loss of love are exposed, as are the hardships and consequences of alcoholism.

With similar themes as After This, Michael Cunningham’s Flesh and Blood (2007) follows the development of Constantine Stassos’s immigration to the United States. As his family grows and ages, the story follows their disintegration as well as their reunion as they fight, coexist, and build and rebuild their love.

After This

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 4)

After This continues Alice McDermott’s fascination with a Long Island existence dominated by the tenets of Catholic faith and family life that predominated in the Irish family and the neighborhoods she grew up in during the 1950’s and 1960’s. It begins with Mary’s musings about her future as a daughter, sister, and young working woman who has not had much of a social life and sees herself taking care of her father and brother indefinitely unless fate intervenes. Fate takes the form of John Keane, a man she happens to sit next to at a lunch counter in Manhattan who seeks her out again. In their first brief encounter McDermott introduces a theme that runs through the book: desire. After a quick exchange “she turned...

(The entire section is 1494 words.)


Lacayo, Richard. 2006. “The Family That Drifts Together.” Time, 168 (13): 32. Lacayo offers a positive review of After This.

O’Neil, Joseph. 2006. “Review of After This.” Atlantic Monthly, 298 (3): 110. O’Neil states that McDermott continues to live up to her reputation as an excellent writer.

Teasley, Lisa. 2006. “Family Time.” Los Angeles Times, September 24, p. R 9. Teasley refers to McDermott as an heir to famed British author Virginia Woolf.

Zipp, Yvonne. 2006. “A Family Grows on Long Island.” Christian Science Monitor, September 12, p. 13. Zipp refers to this book as seeming more like a collection of short stories than a novel, but she praises McDermott’s writing style.


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 4)

America 195, no. 10 (October 9, 2006): 26-29.

Booklist 102, no. 21 (July 1, 2006): 9.

Kirkus Reviews 74, no. 14 (July 15, 2006): 694.

Ms. 16, no. 4 (Fall, 2006): 74-75.

The New York Times 155 (September 8, 2006): E34.

The New York Times Book Review 155 (September 10, 2006): 15.

The New Yorker 82, no. 28 (September 11, 2006): 83-85.

Publishers Weekly 253, no. 25 (June 19, 2006): 37.

Time 168, no. 13 (September 25, 2006): 82.