2:00 a.m. August 9, 2009
Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 336 pages, $25
Grief is a full-blown character in “Come Sunday,” Isla Morley’s arresting, heart-wrenching novel about a couple whose marriage falls apart when they lose their 3-year-old daughter, Cleo, to a tragic accident. The story is told from the point of view of Cleo’s mother, Abbe Deighton, whose sorrow directs the trajectory of the novel and results in the unraveling of the many loose ends in her life.
Desperate to unload her pain, Abbe systematically destroys every relationship that might, in other circumstances, bring her solace — her troubled union with her husband, Greg, a preacher who turns to the Bible to assuage his pain; her friendship with the woman who was caring for Cleo when she died; and her co-workers (including a part-time lover) at the Honolulu-based magazine where she works.
As if fresh suffering weren’t enough to bear, Abbe finds her thoughts turning to her childhood in South Africa, where she, her mother and her brother were tormented at the hands of her abusive father. It is through these remembrances — as well as a danger-wrought trip to her homeland to settle her parents’ estate — that Abbe begins to understand her mother’s agony and how she might begin the process of piecing her own life back together.
It may seem ill-conceived to recommend a book about the death of a child and the grief of those who loved her, but if I can’t do so whole-heartedly, I do so with a heart shattered by this phenomenal debut.