Following the author's splendid That Night (1987), this remarkable novel--about the temper and times of an Irish-American family in 1950's Long Island and Brooklyn--firmly establishes McDermott as a writer of major talent. Like Anglo-Irish novelist William Trevor, McDermott plots the touching dignity of ordinary lives pursued on the crest of inevitable sadness. Outside the wedding hall awaits the summons to the wake. Three school-age Dailey children--earnestly watching, like young animals training for survival in the snug safety of adult regimens--dutifully follow their mother Lucy on the summer treks from Long Island to Brooklyn--from the bus stop where Lucy is aware of her ``stunned hopelessness'' to the exciting trip through the subway cars and Lucy's leap, with the children, across the ``loud and dark and precarious distance'' of the coupled cars, toward home and her native Brooklyn. In the apartment (dark with boredom, tears, and doughty courage) are the aunts, Lucy's sisters: one defeated, one defiantly managing, and then May, simply loving. And there's also ``Momma,'' who emigrated from an Irish farm of mud and dirt, tended a dying sister and her four girls, married her sister's husband, and bore her own son, who now pays a (sober) ceremonial visit to his mother once a year at Christmas. Momma's anger has taken on fate. There are endless afternoons--the heavy meal, the cocktail hour, the quarrel time, weeping, and closed doors. But the ``merry fog'' of Christmas transforms the apartment, families, and life. For the Daileys there are the shore vacations for two weeks each year, when there is no past, with its ghosts and old hurts, but only a tender present. Then there's the wonderful day when May, the middle-aged ex-nun, is married--days before the fateful tap at the door of the seaside cottage. In translucent prose with rich recognitions, a fine novel of vigorous wisdom and heartbreaking humanity.