EVENSONG by Kate Southwood


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An old woman reflects on her life as she approaches the end of it in a small Midwestern town.

Southwood (Falling to Earth, 2013) opens with a short chapter of flashback before jumping forward to Margaret Maguire waking up in a hospital bed. This establishes the pattern of the novel: memories are interspersed with present-day events. Margaret’s perspective is, at turns, tender, resigned, and bitter. We are often told what she’s made of her past before she remembers it. “My childhood was unpunctuated by grief,” she states before painting a nostalgic portrait of her youth. In time, however, tragedy does punctuate. Margaret, at 82, has outlived her parents and siblings and witnessed the ends of her sister’s and daughter’s marriages in divorce. Margaret herself has been a widow for more than three decades. Her late husband, Garfield, is the center of most of her memories, and their marriage and his sudden death are focal points of the novel. Garfield was a complicated man with a large personality, a pedant and a bully, as Margaret describes him, who never understood “that a person can be smart and right without rubbing people’s noses in it.” Indeed, this is evidenced by many of her flashbacks and, most especially, in Garfield’s interactions with their eldest daughter, Joanne. Margaret does not victimize herself but feels real guilt for her mistakes. She concludes at one point, “I was the one who had chosen their father. I had married a man who deserved to die alone.” In the present, the adult Joanne displays many of Garfield’s worst qualities, and she clashes with Margaret frequently. Margaret’s closest relationship is with Joanne’s daughter, Melissa, her only grandchild, who not only cares for Margaret, but humors her and is genuinely interested in Margaret’s past. Melissa triggers more and more of Margaret’s memories, and the flashbacks occupy an increasing portion of the story as it unfolds. Sometimes, Margaret’s pronouncements resonate deeply. “It’s the problem Christmases that stand out,” she realizes, sitting at the Christmas table with the living and remembering the dead. These are the novel’s best moments, when Margaret is her most sympathetic and when the reader arrives at an insight alongside her.

An introspective novel about a woman hoping for closure before death.

Pub Date: May 16th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-393-60859-5
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2017


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