THE MOURNER'S BENCH by Susan Dodd

THE MOURNER'S BENCH

KIRKUS REVIEW

The comeback of desire long denied fails to ignite this latest from Dodd (Hell-Bent Men and Their Cities; Mamaw ,1988, etc.). Narrated alternately by Wim, a fiftysomething New England academic dying of a brain tumor, and by Leandra, his young southern sister-in-law, Dodd’s story tells of people burdened by guilt and wishfulness. Ten years after the death of his wife Pammy, Wim travels to the backwoods of North Carolina to die in Leandra’s arms, affirming their as yet mainly tacit love. The novel zigzags back in time: we learn of how Leandra first traveled to Massachusetts to help older sister Pammy during the last month of a difficult pregnancy, and how the sisterly intimacy gave way to icy disillusionment. Wim recounts his early relationship with Pammy—he was her literature professor, and she hungered for a life far from hardscrabble home. When Pammy and Wim’s baby (never wanted by Pammy) dies shortly after birth, the sterile New England country house becomes filled with despondency and anguish. Pammy’s anger swells, she refuses to leave her bed, and Wim and Leandra briefly seek comfort in each other. Later, living in a one-room shack, repairing dolls to make a living, Leandra must confront both the ghost of Pammy and her love for Wim when he appears on her doorstep less than a year before dying. The story keeps its center in the present, following Wim’s painful mortal journey and the solace that lies in the power of Leandra’s good company. But at its core, this tale of love feels disappointingly reserved. Maybe because the mutual need of boy and girl is so fully, perfectly shared, no reader can share it quite so well. The pair’s rapt quiet sounds too quiet. A disappointment from a gifted writer who, this time, doesn—t reveal enough.

Pub Date: Aug. 5th, 1998
ISBN: 0-688-15799-8
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1998