Few relationships are as complex and as all-consuming as the one between mothers and daughters. Whether the bond is chilly and distant, or warm and loving, the mirror that we as females most often hold ourselves up to is that of the woman who raised us…and all too often there’s that moment in a woman’s life when she ruefully has to acknowledge that the words that just came out of her mouth sound exactly like those of her mother.
The intricacies of this relationship are at the heart of THE REST OF HER LIFE, a tense and completely absorbing novel by Laura Moriarty. Set against the backdrop of a single moment that will completely change a family’s life forever, this is the kind of book that will keep you up and reading until the last page is turned.
Fans of Moriarty’s debut, THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING, will find much to savor in her second offering. The detailed characters and gripping plot will attract new readers --- Jodi Picoult’s style comes to mind --- and I was also reminded of the wonderfully drawn relationships in Judith Guest’s modern classic, ORDINARY PEOPLE.
The story centers on Leigh Churchill, a schoolteacher married to a wonderful college professor and mother to two. One day she comes home from work to find that life as she has known it is forever altered: her 18-year-old daughter, Kara, has run over and killed another teenager, one of her own former students. This tragedy sends everything in their family spinning --- Leigh’s difficulties with Kara, which are juxtaposed against her husband’s easier relationship with their daughter; her interaction with her friends and colleagues in town; and her difficult childhood with her own mother and sister. The impact that this event has on Leigh, her family, the victim’s family and the entire town reverberates across every aspect of their lives.
Moriarty’s deft touch with characters is strong and sure. Both Kara and her brother, Justin, are wonderfully crafted, and she creates an unforgettable portrait of Diane, the victim’s mother, and Eva, Leigh’s intriguing best friend. But it is with Leigh that the author’s skills really shine. Instead of taking the easy route and making Leigh warm and likable, Moriarty creates a character who is prickly at best --- the true result of a child raised in difficult circumstances. This approach is both illuminating and frustrating. Because the novel is told from Leigh’s point of view, it’s difficult to get an accurate sense of what other characters might be feeling, but at the same time Leigh resonates with a truth that a less emotionally challenged character would never have.
THE REST OF HER LIFE is a compelling novel that takes a steady, unforgettable look at how an instant can change a family’s life irrevocably. Readers looking for a well-crafted family drama with a page-turning plot will not be disappointed with Moriarty’s latest work.
Reviewed by Lourdes Orive on January 23, 2011
The Rest of Her Life