Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Elizabeth and After

After reading the first book in the Twilight series, I wanted to dive into something completely different.  I opted to read  Elizabeth and After by Matt Cohen, a book set in a small town outside of Kingston, Ontario.  

.The story centres around Elizabeth McKelvey, a teacher who dies tragically and shapes the   lives of the three men closest to her in life.  She is always in the background of the narrative, quietly influencing the decisions of her son Carl, husband William, and former lover, Adam.  Her absence seems to be as powerful as her presence may have been had she lived.  Up until late in the novel, the reader does not get Elizabeth's perspective and her thoughts and feelings are described through her effect on these men. Their reactions to her actions and death are how Cohen presents her as a silent (for the most part) central character. I found this to be the most fascinating aspect of the book, as I am accustomed to stories told from a first person point of view, centring around an interesting protagonist.  

The male characters, whose lives are continuing to be impacted by the loss of Elizabeth, are interesting studies in denial and self-destruction.  Each in their own way, they cope with their grief and try to struggle through their remaining days.  Carl is particularly adept at getting into scrapes and causing collateral damage to the women in his life.  He is the subject of much conflict when he returns to town, and his strain of the narrative provides the most suspense. Especially in the latter hundred pages of the novel, where the action comes to a head.  I personally related to Adam Goldsmith, who always seems on the outside looking in, but who plays a vital role as tensions intensify between Carl and just about everyone.  

If I am totally being honest, I would say that I had my struggles getting through this book, reading twenty pages here and there, taking my sweet time.  In my mind I know that this is due to my restless mind, rather than the quality of the writing or the way that I related to the characters.  Despite my frustrations, which were with myself, I would recommend this book as an interesting study in the effects of grief, on both a family and a small community.

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