Above the funeral parlor, on the brownstone’s top floor, the old women gather, talking about the dead: whose body is being prepared in the basement, who is being waked upstairs, whose family has called, newly requiring services. A lifetime at its end needs careful remembering, neither sentimental nor cruel — colored with bits of jagged-edged heartbreak and scandal for veracity, but tempered with mercy. Such are the stories the women tell over tea.
“They would know the clear-eyed truth of it. And they would know as well how to choose their words to tell a kinder tale,” Alice McDermott writes in her incantatory new novel, in which the landscape of memory is a chiaroscuro in motion and the sightlines are seldom entirely unobstructed.