Come Sunday by Isla Morley

Abbe Deighton is a woman on the edge.  Struggling with her role as mother to an active toddler, and wife to an embattled pastor in Hawaii (who is intent on running programs which do not endear him to church leaders), she is increasingly at the end of her rope with everyone. When Abbe and Greg’s world is tragically altered by the accidental death of their two-year old, Cleo, Abbe slides into relentless despair that leaves her marriage in the balance when her husband Greg reaches for his faith, and she questions the existence of her own.

Morley’s Come Sunday sounded fascinating from the start, but I admit that my approach to this novel, dealing with such sensitive and heartbreaking issues, was one of trepidation. I anticipated the weight of this read, but once I began, I found Morley to be a highly skilled writer who exquisitely brings her considerable talent to bear on grim subject matter, making her characters and their situations achingly real.

This is mainly Abbe’s story and she is very human (read – flawed) and already struggling, even before the death of her daughter – feeling stagnated in her career, and unsupported and overwhelmed by  her role as wife and mother. Tragedy, however,  doesn’t happen in a vacuum and as much as Abbe wants to lean in and be devoured by her grief, parts of her life, which have always haunted her and from which she has always been running, become insistent on having their own day of reckoning. The ghost of her mother and their troubled relationship, in particular , will give Abbe no peace until she finally faces them.

I really loved this novel and the portrayal of this woman who must confront her past in order to continue living, who must find a way to deal with the unrelenting grip of the vicious sadness and anger newly informing her relationships with family, neighbors and friends. The sense of place is very strong as Morley excels in her characterization of not only people, but places as well. Hawaii is distinctive – the community and culture  so clear that I could reach out and touch it, but equally compelling is South Africa where Abbe must return to face the demons that have shaped her.  I loved the look at the issues which confront the new South Africa, the uncertainty Abbe feels to it and her upbringing, and the strong tensions shaping a place that has drastically changed yet has endured in its sameness.

Recently someone told me that they didn’t read fiction because there is too much that is “real” to read and be concerned about in the world.  I didn’t have the time, or the inclination really, to address the magnitude of what had been said, and how much I disagreed – but I have thought about that statement a lot since then.  It certainly isn’t a new approach to fiction, or a new way of perceiving fiction readers.  If I felt the need to defend myself, Come Sunday would probably be one of my answers to what was said. I can immerse myself in non-fiction (and I do enjoy it very much), recite facts and history, be appalled by the enormity of statistics and numbers, but most times it is through fiction that I am able to understand someone else’s truth.

The truth of Abbe’s story isn’t pretty or pleasant, nor does she handle herself particularly well, but I so appreciated the honesty of her character, the ferocious quality of her pain, and right or wrong, how she chose to go about its expression.  Whether I will later recognize this behavior in myself or in another, as a result of reading this novel,  I have some semblance of understanding from which I can reach out from a place of more compassion that I might normally exhibit.  I think that is a pretty neat trick.

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