And Linda felt like getting inside it, curling up with her daughter and going to sleep.
But the coffin was too small.
This is one of the saddest stories I’ve read this year. A family torn apart by one tragic moment, each person shouldering blame that severs each relationship and demands love and support that is no longer possible to give. It begins with a countdown, 21 days after the nightmare that has Linda longing for nothing more than eternal sleep, but with a baby inside her womb she can’t cave in to darkness. All she wants is make the child go away, there is nothing left inside of her for the newborn on the way, and certainly no comfort to give her eldest daughter, Esme.
Esme’s grief and shame is burying her, she needs her mother now more than ever. But Linda can’t stomach even looking at her little girl without wanting to hurt her. Still, in the beginning she tries, she attempts to rally enough energy, some remnant of ‘life’ to at least be present. She knows it isn’t fair to her husband Tom and daughter, nor to their unborn child but fair is no longer reality, not for any of them. There is no such thing as fair, she knows this now, it is a brutal truth the universe has taught them all. After losing Phoebe, everything isn’t just a challenge, it’s an impossibility. She is sinking in depression that is feeding her rage, and Esme is trapped between her parents, protective of the mother that seems to hate her so much. Her childhood is over, she is only 7 years old when her mother decides to erase all reminders of Phoebe, so that maybe she can go on, so that maybe she can breathe and get through just one day. When Linda isn’t feeling judged by other mothers for collapsing under her grief and being a terrible mother to Esme, resentful of husband Tom, then she is hearing her dead daughter’s voice. She needs help! When the new baby arrives, it should be a moment of rebirth for the entire family, a chance to heal, but Linda cannot escape her sorrow. Esme becomes Bea’s second mother of sorts, a stand in for the love and care her mother can’t bear to give. That care verges on suffocating, because she will do everything to keep Bea safe.
Fast forward to the future, Part 2 and Bea is about to have a child of her own. There is a strain between she and Esme. This novel beautifully exposes how children, with an age gap, can live a completely different upbringing within the same family. All Esme ever wanted to do is protect Bea from the heavy weight of the grief she has lived and breathed since before Bea was born. To keep Bea safe becomes a second chance for the unforgivable mistake made with Phoebe. Esme hasn’t had much of a life of her own, hasn’t felt she deserved one, not after her mother Linda fell apart, and what about Tom, her father? If there are secrets that have been kept from Bea, there too are things Tom and Linda had kept from Esme, that changes everything she believed about that ill-fated day when she lost her beloved little sister. Just who is to blame?
It is about regret, how making one poor judgement can cost you everything. How many moments have we ourselves dodged, simply through fate? One may never know. It is not having the full story, and how Bea’s relationship with her family is damaged by fear, by the unspeakable truths we keep close thinking it’s the only way to salvage the remains of happiness, the only chance to keep someone safe. It’s how much of our future we give away to guilt, to pain. This is a heavy read, and as a mother one can understand Linda’s struggle with shame, rage, hopelessness and bottomless grief. Tom has his own burden to bear, he too made a mistake, as did Esme (though of all of them, surely Esme is the least to blame)? What a position for so young a child to be in. It seems like an impossible scenario, but such things have happened, and I always wonder ‘my god, how does a child move on from such a terrible accident.’ A heavy read. Maybe there is hope for healing, but tragedy is an unwanted guest that refuses to leave. Will they ever be a family again, will Bea ever have all the Missing Pieces and finally know what happened? What about her pregnancy? What does it mean for her future? This is a weeper.
Publication Date: June 21, 2018