In a recent review, I lamented the fact that the novella in question should have been a novel in order that the story and characters could be more fully formed. With Moments of Joy (Inanna, 2015) Cecelia Frey has created an entire novel from what could easily have been a shorter book. It was a great read and I found the story thoroughly engrossing from start to finish.
Manfred Weiszl, a former professor and owner of a Toronto publishing house lies dying of cancer in an upstairs bedroom in the family home in Toronto. Unknown to him, his dying is the catalyst for a series of family issues to come to the fore, including an estranged son, a brother’s suicide as well as his own misgivings about his life and how he has treated (or mistreated) others.
Moments of Joy is divided into four parts, each one fully developing not only the back story of Manfred’s life, but also of the prime characters in the present who are all affected by his dying. Foremost among them is his sister Pauline, with whom he has, and always had, a close relationship, much to the consternation of other family such as Manfred’s wife Gertrude and their son Rupert. Rupert himself had left home some thirteen years previously after the death of his alcoholic mother, accusing his father of ‘murdering’ her. Then there are the grandchildren, one whose husband has left her for a man, another who is dealing with her own sexual identity. Oh, and don’t forget the ‘outsiders’ like Marie, the longsuffering resident housekeeper and her boyfriend Steve who will play an integral role in reconciling the family in unexpected ways. At some point, I thought that this book was like a modern, lesser version of Downton Abbey, and like that series, is a well-told story on all fronts.
A Most Intriguing Story
There are several intriguing parts to this book. One is how Ms. Frey scripts the thoughts of a slowly dying man laying helpless on his deathbed. Calmed by morphine, Manfred’s words are at times lucid and at other times unintelligible to the listener. But his thoughts are semi-coherent as he sorts them out in his head and reflects back on his life, although at times his drug-induced dreams interfere, further confusing him. Unbeknownst to Manfred, several dramas are playing out right within his own home as the family deals with his impending death as well as their own inter-relationships past and present.
What I Liked
Moments of Joy was a relish to read. I especially took pleasure in the way Ms. Frey played out Manfred’s thoughts as he lay helpless and dying in his bed. Two other fascinating parts of the book was Steve’s eerie first encounter with Rupert’s wife Elizabeth, and Rupert’s lone whiskey-fueled musings in a bar which leads to a visit to his father’s house, his first in thirteen years.
If you are searching for a good read that deals with some of life’s big questions, and does it gracefully so, then Moments of Joy is well worth reading.