"What a gorgeous, poignant book Kate Southwood has written! Evensong is both heartbreaking and breathtaking, a novel that lingers long after its final pages."
“I had waited years to be married, and now here I was again, waiting for Gar to come home.” So thought Margaret during World War II, after her husband, Garfield, enlisted and she was home with her young daughter, Joanne, living with her exasperating mother-in-law and waiting. Such is one of the many quiet moments on which Margaret, now at the end of her life, reflects. Southwood’s (Falling to Earth) novel opens with a brief, delightful glimpse back to her wedding night—“we heard his mother clattering dishes in the sink, all the dinner dishes she had saved for this moment”—and then abruptly moves on to the hospital bed where she has woken up, bewildered, with an adult Joanne at her bedside. Despite the warmth and intimacy of the dinner dishes and many other finely wrought flashes of the past, the novel’s pacing never quite catches, instead feeling confusing and even dull. Alternating back and forth in time, the narrative organization seemingly echoes that of one’s mind late in life, coming and going out of the present, memories more clear and logical than the current circumstances. Despite the integrity of this intention, there’s never anything else but quiet. Names and regrets pile up; all the ordinary makings of a life that leave the reader, much like Margaret herself, waiting for something to begin or add up. (May)
"As a woman looks back on a single, faulty decision that marred the course of her days, Kate Southwood’s Evensong breaks open an ordinary life to dazzling effect. Musical in its rhythms, brimming with yearning and regret, this is a novel that continually surprises, reminding us that our passions, our fates—our very names—can be irrevocably changed by the simple turn of a head."
"Kate Southwood performs a series of literary miracles. Evensong is a novel that both expands and compresses a life, that lays bare and embellishes it. The story is as specific as an intimate memory whispered by a person to herself, and as universal as the ongoingness of life itself. There were a few times I gasped at the beauty of the prose; there were many more times I underlined passages to go back and relish again. Truly, this is literature at its best. I loved this book."
"In Evensong, Kate Southwood has given us a novel filled with an epic life, that of a woman whose fierce and vivid memories encompass a truly American story of mothers, daughters, the struggle for love and independence, the way women fight to keep their true selves when the world tries to etch them away. Unforgettable."
"Kate Southwood writes as beautifully about the grit and poetry of daily life as she does about the lies we tell each other and ourselves. In its gentle but insistent urge toward knowledge, Evensong shines a light into the dark."
An old woman reflects on her life as she approaches the end of it in a small Midwestern town.Southwood (Falling to Earth, 2013) opens with a short chapter of flashback before jumping forward to Margaret Maguire waking up in a hospital bed. This establishes the pattern of the novel: memories are interspersed with present-day events. Margaret's perspective is, at turns, tender, resigned, and bitter. We are often told what she's made of her past before she remembers it. "My childhood was unpunctuated by grief," she states before painting a nostalgic portrait of her youth. In time, however, tragedy does punctuate. Margaret, at 82, has outlived her parents and siblings and witnessed the ends of her sister's and daughter's marriages in divorce. Margaret herself has been a widow for more than three decades. Her late husband, Garfield, is the center of most of her memories, and their marriage and his sudden death are focal points of the novel. Garfield was a complicated man with a large personality, a pedant and a bully, as Margaret describes him, who never understood "that a person can be smart and right without rubbing people's noses in it." Indeed, this is evidenced by many of her flashbacks and, most especially, in Garfield's interactions with their eldest daughter, Joanne. Margaret does not victimize herself but feels real guilt for her mistakes. She concludes at one point, "I was the one who had chosen their father. I had married a man who deserved to die alone." In the present, the adult Joanne displays many of Garfield's worst qualities, and she clashes with Margaret frequently. Margaret's closest relationship is with Joanne's daughter, Melissa, her only grandchild, who not only cares for Margaret, but humors her and is genuinely interested in Margaret's past. Melissa triggers more and more of Margaret's memories, and the flashbacks occupy an increasing portion of the story as it unfolds. Sometimes, Margaret's pronouncements resonate deeply. "It's the problem Christmases that stand out," she realizes, sitting at the Christmas table with the living and remembering the dead. These are the novel's best moments, when Margaret is her most sympathetic and when the reader arrives at an insight alongside her.An introspective novel about a woman hoping for closure before death.