In At Weddings and Wakes, McDermott filters what is known and discovered through the minds of the Towne-Daily children, most often through a composite consciousness that seems to mesh with the point of view of the author. Sometimes a particular child is chosen as a focal point, and readers are thus able to distinguish between the boy, for example, and his sisters. Robert, well-behaved and introverted, is an exemplary altar boy who rises in the mornings in time to attend early mass. He is a good boy, the priest says, prompt, courteous, with pressed cassock and shined shoes. When his sister Margaret decides to emulate his behavior and go to early mass herself, Robert is glad for her company and seems pleased to point out to her things that give him pleasure—pinkish clouds left in the sky, a last star, a hedge filled with sparrows in the morning dew. Try as she might, however, Margaret is unable to match her brother’s generosity and selflessness. The gladioli that she finds in the cemetery and identifies as her own treasure, separate from her brother’s, have to be a special gift, the child thinks, perhaps an offering to her teacher, Miss Joan. The flowers, the child thinks, would transform the teacher from ugly duckling to blushing bride gliding across a dance floor in the arms of a new husband. Margaret’s joy turns to shame and humiliation, however, when Miss Joan spurns the flowers, which came from the dirt of a freshly dug grave.
(The entire section is 578 words.)