(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Alice McDermott’s extraordinary achievement in At Weddings and Wakes is attributable in no small part to her use of point of view to accomplish striking tonal shadings. Every scene seems a mixture of past and present—for the children, resonant of a future not yet experienced, and for the adult, a reminder of childhood. In seeking meaning in the novel, a reader must be able to enter the magic world of childhood, when voices overheard echo past and future sounds and stories are replicated so often that one cannot tell the real from the unreal—the created story from the true event that took place in unknown times and places.

In every present is a reverberation of other times and places, other people. Momma Towne, for example, at age seventeen assumes the role of wife and mother to a man and his children who are more or less strangers to her. In the midst of difficult times, she learns to assert herself by constantly taking the other point of view with her husband, and she achieves by this action his loving attention and respect. Thereafter, she uses this newfound skill at disputation to cement her position as head of the household after her husband’s death. The constant lamentations and complaints in which Lucy and her sisters engage are a reflection of Momma’s constant dissatisfaction with her life. May’s rejection of a chosen profession—a nun—because she is too happy in it is a reflection of Lucy’s constant complaints and...

(The entire section is 462 words.)