Once there were two sisters whose parents kept a secret. Such is the
story in Helen Fremont’s After
Long Silence, a memoir that makes me think of how we all walk
around in our ordinary lives pretending that we don’t have things we
can’t say locked up in our chests. We’ll do practically anything to
keep from facing what we hope we’ve left behind us—those people we were
once upon a time.
The fairy tale so often starts at this point of gentle ease into the
past—there was a beautiful daughter, a wise servant, a clever girl,
a faithful boy—and right away, we know trouble lurks just beneath the
surface and that by tale’s end we’ll have a lesson to carry with us:
“And so. . .”
Once there was a man, who said to his aged mother, his mother who wanted
nothing more to do with heartache—her husband was recently dead; the
son, her only child, was leaving to live far away from her, leaving
her to live alone with sadness, a widow in a distant town—“I love you.”
It was the first time he’d said it, the first time he could remember
it ever being said in this house, and he could see right away that it
embarrassed his mother, and right away he felt sorry that he’d forced
her to say it back to him.
It was a summer night, lights coming on in houses up and down the street,
faint voices drifting out through open windows, the murmurs of the living,
and here they stood, this man and his mother, as alive to each other
as they’d ever been, full of affection and hesitation and unease.
Then the man got into his car and drove away, left his mother on the
porch, her hand half-raised in a timid wave, and now here he is all
these years later, still able to call up the way his heart felt after
the silence broke. Stunned, then and forever after—trembling with love
is the author of the memoirs, Turning
Bones, and From
the story collection, The
Least You Need to Know; and the novel, Quakertown.
His most recent book, the novel, The
Bright Forever, was
a finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. He directs the creative
writing program at The Ohio State University.