“‘There is no understanding between people,’ I wrote, ‘and one cannot rely on others to make meaning of life. One has only oneself.” (p. 202)
Through a series of five elegies to lost family and friends, Mary Murphy uniquely tells us the story of her life. There’s Mike Beaudry, Mary’s hard-living uncle, who did his best to care for Mary and her sister Malinda while their beautiful yet erratic mother married one man after another and created a life of volatile instability for her young girls. There’s Elwood LePoer, the dim-witted town fool whose cruel retaliation lead Mary to one of the most stable relationships of her life. There’s Carson Washington, Mary’s college roommate whose senseless death prompted Mary to save her own life. There’s James Butler, a bitter, middle-aged piano player whose betrayal ended up pushing Mary to achieve more than she thought possible.
And finally there is Margaret Murphy Collins Francis Adams Witherspoon, Mary’s mother. Margaret had a tendency to live her life as though it was staged performance, a characteristic derived from her own rocky childhood and the idea that she somehow deserved more than she ever received. Without a sense of stability, Mary slowly retreated into herself, while Malinda tended to take after their mother with tempermental outbursts and unpredictable emotions. Malinda eventually left home, while Mary is left to decide whether to move on or fall apart.
Mary’s story is tragic and heartbreaking and, yet, unexpectedly hopeful. Hodgen has woven together a mournfully beautiful search for meaning amid poverty, desperation, addiction and hopelessness; where not a word is wasted and every detail intricately fits together to reveal a complex and blatantly honest portrait of a life.