rsz_ayearandadayGrowing up in the Shadow of Suicide

Author: Leslie Pietrzyk

Fifteen-year-old Alice must cope with the after effects of her mother’s seemingly callous suicide and try to find a reason to continue living and going through all the rituals in the shadow of hideous absence. Alice seeks consolation in what she knows, but everything, even the clock on the wall, reminds her of the person who is no longer there, the person she could have possibly stopped if she had only seen or considered her parent beyond the role of mother. Trying to bring Annette’s idiosyncratic rituals back to life and keep the memories and bonds alive, Alice begins to hear her mother’s voice in the year that follows, but are there really any answers to the questions she has? Why do people really leave us? Do we really know who anyone is? Is a year, as psychologists say, really as long as it takes to heal from an unexpected loss? Knowing what life can bring and take away, is there beauty or reason in anything? Alice ponders these questions as she watches each member of her family, namely her brother and her aunt, react differently to the departure of Annette.

A Year and a Day was a surprising novel, the aspect of a ghostly yet restrained voice adding another layer onto the familiar concept of grief. The voice worked well in that it revealed to readers that ambiguity is a part of life and that secrets, even if people could speak from beyond the grave, remain personnel and ultimately, unknowable. Having dealt with my own year of semi-grief – my father’s cardiac arrest (and a miraculous although lengthy recovery), my uncle’s death, my mother’s own health problems – it was both painful and therapeutic to read this novel which took me further into the valley of the shadow that I feared but also provided the comfort of not being alone and of examining the worst case scenario which, ultimately, people do survive if not intact, in a sort of beautiful brokenness.

The novel takes place in a small town in Iowa in 1975 and, although before my time (child of the 90s here), the feeling of everyday normalcy, the details including the broken clock, the rituals of cooking, the lone wail of the train, and the shockingly vibrant lipstick that marks Annette in her daughter’s mind as a rebel. Each detail builds familiarity, place, and time, putting readers into the world of grief which is, at times, overpowering in its reality, but also enmeshing because we can’t leave. We have to know what happens to these people. If and how they find closure. If there is even such a thing as closure.

Day to day life continues while friends avoid Alice; everyone wants to move on with the “important” items of normal life – except now all those things seem mundane and shallow. Alice struggles to continue being “normal” and not defined as the girl whose mother killed herself, yet she ultimately sees through the simulacrum as well and struggles to fit in a world that’s no longer so ordered or so black and white, making this a part grief novel and a part coming of age story.  Enter the fray a potentially dark love interest and Alice is left to wonder: is there any point in building bonds when people leave or die – when life is ever changing?

Alice felt especially close and each scene resonates with detail that creates symbolism and encompassing meaning, making every paragraph and page rich with meaning, without ever losing focus of the everyday hell that our characters are trapped in. As they try to figure things out, we are forced to question along with them and voyeuristically journey into a bittersweet conclusion. A Year and a Day is both a heartbreaking and a comforting novel that haunts the reader; Annette’s words always ringing in our own ears. It’s certainly not a happy reader, but there is the distinct human feeling of connection that makes it last and puts it among my favorite reads. Highly recommended.

–          Frances Carden

Interested in this book/author? Read Readers Lane’s exclusive author interview with Leslie Pietrzyk!

Frances Carden
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