Before I met Alice McDermott, I’d heard a story: when her students became distracted with excitement after she won the National Book Award for Charming Billy (1998), she settled the class down by offering a hundred dollars to anyone who remembered the last winner. As the rumor went, she kept her money. Not one M.F.A. student of fiction could recall the winner or the book (Charles Frazier, for Cold Mountain).
This is a revealing wager from a writer as recognized by awards committees as McDermott; her novel That Night (1987) was a finalist for the National Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award, and the Pulitzer Prize; At Weddings and Wakes (1992) was also a finalist for the Pulitzer. Charming Billy won an American Book Award as well as the National Book Award. Child of My Heart (2002) was nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. After This (2006) was yet another finalist for the Pulitzer. Someone (2013) was long-listed for the National Book Award and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. The French translation of her most recent novel, The Ninth Hour (2017), received the Prix Femina étranger.