Alice McDermott’s eighth novel is a quiet, beautifully written coming-of-age novel set among a group of remarkable nuns in Catholic Brooklyn.
The central character in The Ninth Hour is not a nun, but a girl named Sally who is born after a tragedy in the early 1900s. Her life is forever entwined with the nuns of the Little
Nursing Sisters of the Poor even before she is born. It begins when an elderly nun, Sister St. Savior, learns that a depressed man has taken his life on a “dark and dank’’ winter day. The sister immediately offers comfort and aid to the man’s young, pregnant wife and eventually gets her a job in the convent’s laundry room. When Sally is born, she accompanies her mother every day to the convent and grows to love the nuns who are ever-present in her life. McDermott brings humanity and kindness to these nuns, who are part of an order devoted to helping the sick and neediest of their community. Every day they try to make a difference while witnessing life and death, poverty and despair. Sally eventually starts to wonder if she has it in her to become a nun.
McDermott’s novels about the Irish Catholic American experience have earned her many accolades, including the National Book Award (Charming Billy) and being a three-time nominee for the Pulitzer Prize. The Ninth Hour is a moving, compassionate addition to a collection of already great work. Highly recommended.