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The Rest of Her Life: A Novelby Laura Moriarty
Synopses & Reviews
In The Rest of Her Life, Laura Moriarty delivers a luminous, compassionate, and provocative look at how mothers and daughters with the best intentions can be blind to the harm they do to one another.
Leigh is the mother of high-achieving, popular high school senior Kara. Their relationship is already strained for reasons Leigh does not fully understand when, in a moment of carelessness, Kara makes a mistake that ends in tragedy — the effects of which not only divide Leigh's family, but polarize the entire community. We see the story from Leigh's perspective, as she grapples with the hard reality of what her daughter has done and the devastating consequences her actions have on the family of another teenage girl in town, all while struggling to protect Kara in the face of rising public outcry.
Like the best works of Jane Hamilton, Jodi Picoult, and Alice Sebold, Laura Moriarty's The Rest of Her Life is a novel of complex moral dilemma, filled with nuanced characters and a page-turning plot that makes readers ask themselves, "What would I do?"
"Moriarty's follow-up to book-group favorite The Center of Everything again explores a tense, fragile mother-daughter relationship, this time finding sharper edges where personal history and parenting meet. Now a junior high school English teacher married to a college professor, Leigh has spent much of her adult life trying to distance herself from her dysfunctional childhood. Raising their two children in a small, safe Kansas town not far from where Leigh and her troubled sister, Pam, were raised by their single mother, Leigh finds her good fortune still somewhat empty. Daughter Kara, 18 and a high school senior, is distant; sensitive younger son Justin is unpopular; Leigh can't seem to reach either-Kara in particular sees Leigh (rightly) as self-absorbed. When Kara accidentally hits and kills another high school girl with the family's car, Leigh is forced to confront her troubled relationship with her daughter, her resentment toward her husband (who understands Kara better) and her long-buried angst about her own neglectful mother. The intriguing supporting characters are limited by not-very-likable Leigh's POV, but Moriarty effectively conveys Leigh's longing for escape and wariness of reckoning." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Like Kate DiCamillo's 'Because of Winn-Dixie' and Sue Monk Kidd's 'The Secret Life of Bees,' Laura Moriarty's first novel, 'The Center of Everything' (2003), owed its success to the immense likability of a young female protagonist. Mixing just the right combination of solemnity and cheer, Moriarty turned a potentially sappy coming-of-age tale into a full-on charmer with the voice of her 10-year-old... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) narrator, Evelyn Bucknow of Kerrville, Kan., who courageously traversed a hard-luck childhood without any false moves. In her second novel, the author has achieved an even more impressive goal, inspiring compassion for a character unblessed with Evelyn's immediate appeal. Moriarty has chosen to stay in Kansas — this time, a small college town called Danby — but nearly everything else has changed. From the Reagan-era setting of the earlier book, she has relocated to the present, with the Iraq war and 'American Idol' providing shrill background accompaniment. The milieu has shifted from poverty-level to comfortable middle-class. Most conspicuous is the switch in main characters. Here, we're confronted by Leigh Churchill, a junior high English teacher and mother of two, who is as standoffish as little Evelyn Bucknow was huggable. 'There was nothing soft or lush about her,' writes Moriarty about her new protagonist. Awkward and diffident, Leigh is known around town for keeping to herself. When her eighth-grade curriculum — Flannery O'Connor's stories and 'The Great Gatsby,' among other works — incites a set of parents to demand that she teach less depressing texts, she's speechless with exasperation. She's baffled by many of the requirements of her 20-year marriage to a mildly snobbish college professor, in which 'even in good times there was often bickering.' But her most challenging role is motherhood, for which her own mother — once estranged, now dead — had provided a particularly feeble example. Pained by her childhood memories, Leigh tries hard to be a sensitive parent to her daughter, Kara, a graduating high school soccer star who has recently won a scholarship to Tufts, and her son, a 12-year-old loner named Justin. But neither child seems especially interested in confiding in Leigh. Her attempts to talk to Kara about sex are disastrous, ending with Kara alternately laughing at her and feeling sorry for her. About Justin, who spends his school lunch periods walking along the fence with a prisoner's hopelessness, and whose only friends are a group of octogenarians at the local retirement home, Leigh is utterly at a loss. In the character's conspicuous lack of heroism or charm, the author's creation of a less-than-accessible protagonist here is an audacious choice. Why? Because the new novel is a classic example of what the critic Heller McAlpin has called 'Parental Nightmare Fiction,' in which well-meaning parents face a dire situation involving their child, except that Moriarty has intentionally overturned the genre's most recognizable conventions. The novel begins just after Kara has accidentally run over and killed a girl while driving her parents' Suburban and talking on her cellphone. It's an event that every mother and father of a teenager has no trouble imagining with dread, made worse here — if possible — by the fact that the victim was a former student of Leigh's for whom she'd had a soft spot. Typically, this kind of fiction — I'm thinking of Dani Shapiro's 'Family History' and Rosellen Brown's 'Before and After' — depends on the reader's warm identification with the parents in the story. Imperfect though they may be, in crisis they're usually gallant, and eloquent in their mourning for what Brown calls 'the forfeit of ordinary life.' Moriarty, on the contrary, takes care to portray Leigh in a variety of mute, unflattering postures in the aftermath of Kara's catastrophic error, whose effects the author records with stout precision. Every public occasion in the tragedy's wake — the funeral, Kara's arraignment, even trips to the grocery store and farmer's market — highlights Leigh's consistent failure to act with any instinctive warmth or poise. Her uncushioned behavior stands in stark contrast to that of other women who more naturally offer comfort to Kara and Justin, like Leigh's older sister or the mother of Kara's best friend. While it might seem impossible for a reader to find any tender connection with this protagonist, Moriarty manages subtly to build a case for compassion for all her characters, and especially for Leigh. The worthiness of this achievement is most apparent in the brief scenes in which Leigh defends her right to teach literary works that parents have condemned for their lack of uplift. (A mother complains to Leigh that Daisy Buchanan in 'The Great Gatsby' 'kills another woman by running her over with a car. ... I would think that you of all people would see the need to teach young people the importance of responsible decision making.') Using forcefulness that Leigh does not possess, Moriarty's novel shows that it is not literature's job to be uplifting, or even to be beautiful. It is literature's job to say yes, to every corner of every life: yes to disaffected characters like Leigh as well as to winsome ones like Evelyn Bucknow; yes to grief as much as to solace; yes to wrongdoers as well as to the wronged; and yes most of all to 'our weak attempts,' as Leigh acknowledges, 'to feel each other's burdens.' " Reviewed by Donna Rifkind, who often reviews fiction for The Washington Post Book World, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Moriarty's honest novel about an ordinary family whose life changes in one extraordinary moment resonates like an emotional tuning fork." Jodi Picoult
"This is not a cheery book. Nor is it a superficial one. It is an intelligent, provocative and memorable novel." Kansas City Star
"Powerful, original, and utterly absorbing, Moriarty's novel will stay with the reader long after the final page is turned." Booklist
"Moriarty...is a blunt, honest scout. She strips away the detritus of deceit, leaving behind the unavoidable truth that follows." Library Journal
"Fortunately, in this novel where death and guilt haunt the characters, Ms. Moriarty includes humor." Dallas Morning News
"Although this novel could have degenerated into a cliche of mother-daughter angst, it doesn't, primarily because of Moriarty's action-packed writing style and her convincing characters." Baltimore Sun
With the publication of her first novel, The Center of Everything, Laura Moriarty was praised for her keen insights into the human condition, the wisdom of her characters, and her poignant and clear-sighted prose. With The Rest of Her Life, Moriarty's reputation as a novelist to watch is cemented, as she delivers a luminous, provocative, and ultimately redemptive look at how even mothers and daughters with the best intentions can be blind to the harm they do to each other.
About the Author
Laura Moriarty received her master's degree from the University of Kansas, and was awarded the George Bennett Fellowship for Creative Writing at Phillips Exeter Academy. Her first novel was The Center of Everything. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas.
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