Review Title: Ambiguities of Life (Review of Mourning Dove by Claire Fullerton)
Reviewer: Janice Garey
***** 5 Stars
This novel is stunning. When you think it couldn’t possibly be more brilliant and shed more light, you find another facet being presented for the reader’s delight and mouth-dropping awe.
First, the in-depth study of a place and time, Memphis in the 70s, rings with truth like lead crystal tested for its superior sound. The class structure and strict rules of etiquette distinguish those who know how “to do” from the rest. The pairings of people who are in the know with those on the fringe of knowing make for fascinating contrasts within the larger society.
The novel shows the devastation that addiction perpetrates on families. In particular, it portrays the way children suffer when a parent succumbs to alcoholism. The love for the parent remains along with the dreams of what could have been. Some in the family deal with the disappointment with denial while others allow the loss to penetrate and change their basic view of life. The book delivers an accurate portrayal that a percentage of people will become alcoholics when drinks flow freely every day. This is not shown in a judgmental way toward those who chose to indulge in social drinking.
Readers with a solid music background will appreciate that the novel goes into the rock band/concert/recording business arena. The motivation and drive of a musician who gives his whole heart to the creativity and management of a group of musicians is examined. Then the book explores the grandeur of loss when a band dissolves. What does a creative do when their dreams die? In this novel, the pursuit of a new direction leads on a journey of self destruction through charismatic leadership of followers into a cult-like religion.
The story narrator, Millie, starts out as a mere shadow of her older brother Findley. She seeks his opinion to know her own. Eventually they part ways because of his increasing fascination with a pieced together religion. He who has been her strength in troubled times relies on rigidness to counter any weakness. Millie is more flexible in her thinking as to how she must navigate life after loss. She finds new strength in returning to her roots established before their father became an alcoholic and lost his ability to be an encouraging influence on his children. Her brother tries to move forward on the false platform of a god of his own making. In the end it seems that the strong has become weak and the weak has become strong. The ambiguities of life require navigation with flexibility, tenacity, and a keen eye to observe what has lead to stability for other people.
The book appears similar to a waltz between utopia (the setting) and dystopia (the interior mind world of the characters). It’s awkward yet beautiful to see how everyone elegantly or not so elegantly fumbles through the beautiful world of Memphis high society. The reader will not want the dance to end, although like all good things, it must.
My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this on Audible during our commutes to work and back home. The author perfectly narrates the book. We have already selected another Audible book by Claire Fullerton to listen to based on how much we liked this one.