Day and night blur into an endless gloaming from which I cannot escape, not even with the help of the contents of this little bottle. Has it been a day? A week? A month? The pills are yellow. The color of cowardice, I think as I swallow two more and replace the bottle on the nightstand. Why is the song about a yellow ribbon on the old oak tree? Why do the bumpers of cars have yellow ribbons that say SUPPORT OUR TROOPS on them? Blue ribbons are more appropriate for boys out fighting a war, for the color of their lips and nails when they are zipped up in their body bags. Blue for the code that signals no vital signs, blue for the music of inconsolable lamentation. Yellow is the color of desert sand before the blood of the fallen soaks into it; the color for mommies who cannot get up when their children are stuck in icy drawers in cold cellars. Yellow is the color of bile, the lingering hue of a bruise. The color of a kite.
(from Come Sunday, page 35)
Isla Morley’s Come Sunday is another novel sure to make my “best of 2010″ list. Morley takes great care in painting the portrait of a mother’s inconsolable grief and journey toward healing with prose that is both haunting and beautiful.
Set both in Honolulu and South Africa, Come Sunday is the story of Abbe Deighton, pastor’s wife, mother, and writer, whose world crashes to a halt when her three-year-old daughter, Cleo, dies after being hit by a car. Cleo’s death pushes Abbe into a severe depression, causing her to spend most of the day in bed in a drug-induced slumber, stop eating, and wish for death. She surrounds herself with Cleo’s belongings, refuses to part with her ashes, and obsessively winds up clocks all over the house to mark the hours and minutes that pass without her daughter.
Abbe is so grief-stricken that she forgets her husband, Greg, lost a child, too. While Abbe withdraws from the world and lashes out at her husband and her closest friends, Greg turns to the church, and their marriage begins to crumble — though it has been stagnating for some time — because Abbe cannot accept Greg’s grieving process or the support he offers her in an attempt to bring the two of them together during the biggest trial of their lives. Abbe is stuck because she can’t forgive herself or the people she blames for Cleo’s death, she can’t let go of the pain and learn to live again, and she refuses to make amends with her husband no matter how good he is to her. Abbe is a woman without faith, at least not in the God her husband serves, and she casts off her role as pastor’s wife…and wife in any capacity.
Throughout her grieving process, she revisits her childhood in South Africa during apartheid — her alcoholic and abusive father, her scared and submissive mother, and the witch doctor who cursed her grandmother’s farm. Abbe must learn the truth about her long-dead mother and bury the ghosts of her past before she can deal with the pain of the present.
Abbe is a hard character to like, but we really see only her frustration with being recognized just as a wife and mother and then her understandably heavy grief. I may not agree with the way she treated people, especially her husband, but I respect that everyone grieves differently and I cannot imagine, nor do I want to, the pain that accompanies the loss of a child. It’s hard to judge the extent of one’s grief when we haven’t walked in their shoes.
Despite the heaviness and darkness, I found it difficult to put the book down. Morley beautifully describes both Hawaii and South Africa, and her portrayal of grief and its effects on Abbe and Greg’s marriage are emotional without being overdone. The writing is excellent, and while there is hope for healing, Morley keeps the story real up to the last page.
Disclosure: I received a copy of Come Sunday from publicist Diane Saarinen and Picador for review purposes. I am an Amazon associate.
© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.