The Mourning After: Edward Fahey
Two young people lost within the maze of their own thoughts and living within two separate worlds are trying to find a place for them to fit in. Denis is our narrator as he takes readers back to his childhood filled with unusual events that would make you wonder just what kind of a world he lived in, why he was never allowed to venture outside and how he managed to live within the confines of his room most of his life. With a father who felt disappointed in him that he was too delicate, not manly enough and too concerned about his the old wars, trying to life up to what he wanted him to be and fascinated with the planets, Denis led a cold, stark, organized and manipulated life controlled by his father and carried out by his mother. Until something happens to change all that.
Fragile, yet quite astute in many ways, trying to win his father’s favor, Denis reverts deep within his imagination in order to create wars, battles and events that happened in the past using his toy soldiers and toy battlefields to reenact events from the past as if he lived them in the present. It’s as if in order to survive he had to live his life through his dreams. All too often you wonder whether these events were really happening in the present or in Denis’s imagination. As the story reveals information about his father, his rigid rules, when and why Denis is required to remain in his room, how to behave, having to dress for dinner as if it were a formal event, we begin to wonder what kind of childhood this boy would have had if he were allowed to go to school with other kids. Never allowed to interact with friends and allowed or ask questions of his parents stifled his growth socially and at times intellectually. A father who seemed distant and never referred to him by name and a mother who placated him and his every wish, this family seemed would seem odd to most. Home schooled and performing his lessons at home Denis’s world was created within the confines of his mind and the four walls that comprised his home.
Decisions are made that change the dynamics and complexion of his family as his mother invites a young child, let’s call her M to remain with her while her parents sort out their marriage and try to mend their differences. M seems magical at times in his eyes. She seems to understand him and connect with him from the start even though her mother is rude, abusive, and cold and would prefer not dealing with her. Resenting her daughter, hating to care for her and belittling her father in front of her, makes this poor child cower and when Denis’s mother agrees to watch her for a while in order for her parents to regain some hope of saving their marriage, his father expresses great dissent and seems to feel that M is quite odd. At times Denis’s life does not seem any different when dealing with his father and his limited expectations of him as M’s feels about her.
Listening to both M and Denis talk with each other you begin to hear the sadness in each of their voices as M tries to convince herself that her life is really not so bad with a mother who resents her every breath and a father too weak to defend her. Denis with a father who appears cold, distant and foreign in many ways to his son and a mother overprotective and kind, yet not yielding when it comes to many of his childhood needs. Denis is caught within a special web of his own as he immerses himself in a fantasy world created by pretending his toy soldiers are real, dreams about the battles and even the injuries inflicted on himself and others and then is drawn back to reality to face a world without the sun, air and only the four walls within his room and house. When M tries to encourage him to go outside he recoils and explains why that is not possible. His feelings for her are strong and eventually overtake his realities and become what he hopes life would be if they were older.
Whether reality or fantasy Denis and M wind up outside near some graves. The next thing we learn is that they are grooming the sites to make them presentable and then Denis winds up in bed. The scene is quite poignant as it is the first time he feels the air, smells the greenery and enjoys freedom from the confines of the walls within his house. But, no sooner does he taste what we all relish he winds up back within the confines of his home, his father concerned about his mother’s depression and the end result has yet to be determined for all of them. As M questions Denis about seeing soldiers outside of his window whether ghosts or real and they both ponder their futures Denis thinking his is going to be short lived while M keeps saying she does not want to start over or lose someone else. Both characters seem introspective in their thoughts at times and yet they blend so well during the short time they are together.
When his father is no longer there he and his mother move and things begin to take on a different light for Denis. Denis and his mother move and he is sent out into the world to find his own way. Writing, massaging, remembering those that he lost, dreams that would take him within the minds of others and bring to light situations that he cannot tell whether they are real or part of his fantasies or dreams, Denis often fades in and out and his inner most thoughts are expressed using nature as his background within his Mountain Journal at the top of each chapter. As author Edward Fahey incorporates his own life within the pages of this book we learn about Denis, dreams that brought M back into focus, his feelings about losing so many and the death of the one person who was his mentor and teacher, his mother. Guilt ridden that perhaps he should have spent more time with her or called more often he allows the reader to spend her final days and hours with his mom along with him. Ghosts, seeking mystics, healers, mountains, a gravesite that haunted him since he was a child and a troubled life never appearing to be at ease except when escaping into a world that he creates for himself. As the author lives in a secluded mountain cabin the reader wonders if he is sharing more about himself and his life through Denis.
M is always within his mind and he recalls many incidents that happened near the gravesite, their childhood games and the fun they had together as his life takes another turn when his mother dies.
Hearing him speak with a friend named Waters and each one talking about those that they lost and the lives they need to lead makes you wonder if Denis will ever find peace and whether connecting with M would bring him some closure and happiness. With nature, the mountains, the hills, the flowers, the gravesite and so many other scenes so vividly depicted within this novel the reader becomes immersed within the many layers presented and realizes that the change of seasons, the simple things that each one brings depicts the next chapter in Denis’s life.
Denis remembers, the time he spent in many different lives with M and his friendship with Waters creates a whole new dynamic when a special reunion takes place. M returns to the cabin and along with Waters takes many different journeys back in time remembering the many life times she spent with Denis, Enoch and Waters. A journal so powerful and filled with the special stories, events and moments she shared with Denis. From calling him Squire, to feeling his presence in every page and word M recounts through the author Enoch, Jefferson and Denis and their connection. Waters had a wife and never stopped loving her and could never move ahead. Each one mourning the ones that left and came before and is still mourning now. Waters shares his life with her as a young Indian boy, his people, his friends and M connects the dots in many ways that you won’t believe until you hear her words. Reading the journal she begins to wonder if she was supposed to finally break the cycle and why Denis wrote of abandoning her. Why did she feel she abandoned him? As we get to know more about M, her fears, her wants and finally her relationship with Waters we relive the many facets of her life with Denis, Waters and others and wonder what is real and what is fantasy. Her words written to him in a letter that will bring tears to your eyes and wonder why Denis lived in a world that was created for him by a father who did not accept him for who and what he was. The many dreams that haunted Denis and M and the many lives that intertwined will make readers ponder, wonder and want to know the power that the mountains held for all of them, the fear of living life and the hope that someday they would all be together.
‘Mountain Journal: Life, death, and on into life again. It is only our remembering that blinks on and off.’ To understand what this means and how Denis, M and Waters connect and where the past becomes the present and the gift of life so precious read The Mourning After.
When you look at the cover and see the two images within the shadows and the darkness you begin to wonder who is the angel that is watching over the figure that is in the distance. We mourn those we love when we lose them. We mourn others that enter our lives and leave without warning. We mourn what we lose in life and we mourn ourselves when we lose our way. The Mourning After: Just how many have you had?
A special book that teaches readers how to cope with loss, embrace life and find your way to where you truly belong in this outstanding book by author Edward Fahey. “Staring at the moon may be wondrous, but it blinds you to the stars which shine so brightly and light up the world with their special glow. Friendship, love, despair, sadness, loneliness and two young souls that needed to find a place to come home.
Fran Lewis: reviewer