by Elizabeth Joy Arnold Book : Fiction
A Family Pieces Together a Soldier’s Story   (2008-10-02)
A touching and sad story surrounding the tragedies of war and the impact that suicide has on a young family. Elizabeth Joy Arnold is a talented writer but this story could have been tighter. I think she stretches the story to include too much, perhaps showing the myriad of ways that grief affects every aspect of our lives, but I think that I would have enjoyed this story if had been just a little shorter.
We are introduced to our main characters shortly after a soldier’s suicide and in his wake he leaves a wife and two children not only grieving him, but left unsure of the importance that they played in his life. They feel betrayed that he chose to leave them and the mother, Natalie, wants to reassure her children so much that she pretends that their father is writing to them from heaven and leaves notes for them to find. At first it seemed like a great solution because their little boy, Toby, who was the one who found his father after he shot himself had completely stopped speaking to everyone but when she gives him “their fathers” letter, he begins to speak again but soon, it’s all too clear that she may have made a mistake because Toby feels that he can continue to communicate with him.
Elizabeth Joy Arnold adds mystery to the mix through Anna, their daughter who begins dropping hints that she knows more about the reasons behind her father’s death than she should and Arnold gives the reader clues slowly and we ultimately learn that some secrets are too huge to handle alone.
Anna seems to find fault in her own actions leading up to her father’s death and her world is turned upside down even further when their fractured family has to leave the base for “civilian” housing. Natalie then takes her wounded kids and moves back in with her parents, including her mother that is suffering advanced stages of Alzheimer’s. She can’t help but find links to the mental illness that obviously also plagued her husband and she finds his PDA with copious notes taken throughout his last weeks, but Natalie can’t seem to bring herself to check the entry he made on the final day of his life.
While out shopping with the kids, she runs into Seth, an old high school boyfriend who has recently gotten a divorce and he helps her sort out some of her feelings but at the same time, makes her life more complicated because he begins to stir feelings in her that she once only felt for her late husband.
The story culminates when someone from the soldier’s past comes forward and makes contact with a member of the family and starts feeding details that Natalie thinks only her husband would know. This triggers a series of events that help the family come to terms with his death and the reasons behind his suicide.
I enjoyed this story, it was well written and the characters were likeable and relatable and I like the way the author alternated the first-person perspective of Natalie and Anna. I could see this being made into a movie in and in these days where novels are heavily edited to create a more action filled film, I think the resulting tighter version of this story would be well received.
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