Book Reviews

Brevity Home | Book Review Page |   |  


Review of

Helen Fremont's After Long Silence

Dell, 1999 

By Lee Martin

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 and shame.

Lee Martin is the author of the memoirs, Turning Bones, and From Our House, 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.