In The Rest of Her Life, Laura Moriarty delivers a luminous, compassionate, and provocative look at how mothers and daughters with the best intentions can be blind to the harm they do to one another.
Leigh is the mother of high-achieving, popular high school senior Kara. Their relationship is already strained for reasons Leigh does not fully understand when, in a moment of carelessness, Kara makes a mistake that ends in tragedy -- the effects of which not only divide Leigh's family, but polarize the entire community. We see the story from Leigh's perspective, as she grapples with the hard reality of what her daughter has done and the devastating consequences her actions have on the family of another teenage girl in town, all while struggling to protect Kara in the face of rising public outcry.
Like the best works of Jane Hamilton, Jodi Picoult, and Alice Sebold, Laura Moriarty's The Rest of Her Life is a novel of complex moral dilemma, filled with nuanced characters and a page-turning plot that makes readers ask themselves, "What would I do?"
Moriarty's follow-up to book-group favorite The Center of Everything again explores a tense, fragile mother-daughter relationship, this time finding sharper edges where personal history and parenting meet. Now a junior high school English teacher married to a college professor, Leigh has spent much of her adult life trying to distance herself from her dysfunctional childhood. Raising their two children in a small, safe Kansas town not far from where Leigh and her troubled sister, Pam, were raised by their single mother, Leigh finds her good fortune still somewhat empty. Daughter Kara, 18 and a high school senior, is distant; sensitive younger son Justin is unpopular; Leigh can't seem to reach either--Kara in particular sees Leigh (rightly) as self-absorbed. When Kara accidentally hits and kills another high school girl with the family's car, Leigh is forced to confront her troubled relationship with her daughter, her resentment toward her husband (who understands Kara better) and her long-buried angst about her own neglectful mother. The intriguing supporting characters are limited by not-very-likable Leigh's POV, but Moriarty effectively conveys Leigh's longing for escape and wariness of reckoning. (Aug.)
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August 06, 2007
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Excerpt from The Rest of Her Life by Laura Moriarty
Several times that summer, Leigh further tormented herself by considering all the ways the accident might never have happened. She thought of the stray dog, and how its presence had, in a sense, decided everything. If there had been no dog, there would have been no accident. If the dog would have stayed home where it belonged, if it would have had a more responsible owner, if it wouldn't have dug under a fence or slipped through an open door, it would not have followed some scent this way and that until it ended up in the middle of Commerce Street at that particular time on that particular afternoon. Leigh's daughter would most likely have driven home without incident, and Bethany Cleese would still be alive.
But the dog was there, standing on the raised median of Commerce, and maybe enjoying its freedom, though Kara later said that it was panting hard when she saw it. It was warm out, the middle of the afternoon of the last day of school. Kara, being a senior, had already been out for a week, but she and Willow had gone back to the high school to pick up their graduation gowns. On the way home, they stopped at the Sonic drive-thru, and when they pulled back onto Commerce, they noticed the dog as it started to step off the median. They watched, cringing, as the dog moved past screeching tires until it reached the other side of the street. Kara, who volunteered Sundays at the animal shelter, who on her twelfth birthday asked her parents to take the money they were going to spend on her presents and instead buy food for the shelter's animals, couldn't just drive away. She pulled into the parking lot of Raymond's Liquor, where she and Willow got out of the car, crouched low, and held out their still-warm fries to lure the dog away from traffic, into their arms, and eventually, the Suburban that Gary, not Leigh, had allowed Kara to start driving around town as soon as she'd gotten her license.
So really, Leigh often thought, any small change in detail might have altered the horrible outcome. If the stray would have been a different breed of dog, not so friendly, more skittish, it wouldn't have come to the girls, and Kara would not have been so distracted when she pulled back out of the lot. Willow later told the police that they were both laughing, trying to keep the dog in the backseat when they heard the dull thud that turned out to be the sound of the car striking another girl hard enough to kill her. But Leigh knew there had been other distractions: Kara had been on the phone -- she'd admitted that from the start. Leigh imagined the girls had the radio turned up as well, though she never asked if this were true. Leigh was a mother capable of tact and sympathy. She tried. She was always trying. Sometimes, however, despite her best efforts, she apparently said the wrong things.
When she imagined the interior of the Suburban in those final moments, she pictured the dog as a terrier mix, tan, for some reason, like Benji. Leigh never actually saw the dog. She didn't even know about the dog and its involvement in the accident until much later, even though when the accident happened, she was just seven blocks away, teaching eighth grade English at the junior high, as she had been almost every school day for more than a decade. She was seven blocks away, and she had no idea it had happened. Just after the ambulance arrived, Kara used her cell phone to call her father's office on campus. Gary wasn't there, but the call had gone back to the English Department, and the secretary, hearing the distress in the caller's voice, had tracked him down in a faculty meeting on a different floor. Gary told Leigh later that when he got on the phone, he didn't recognize their daughter's voice. She was crying hard, and it sounded as if she were shivering, which, he remembered thinking, made no sense on such a warm day. When he finally understood, he gave the phone to the secretary and ran across the neatly trimmed lawns of campus to the parking lot in his tie and jacket. He had not run so far and so quickly for many years, and when he finally got to his car, he had to stand still for a moment to catch his breath, his hand pressed hard against his heart.
All this happened around three in the afternoon. Leigh remembered hearing the sirens, and she felt the worry she always did, but it was the vague worry she associated with other people's losses, other people's children. She didn't know the sirens had anything to do with her life until she arrived home hours later, her students' final exams rolled under one arm. She had been slightly irritated. Someone had overturned the recycling bin in the mudroom, and she almost slipped on a stray aluminum can. Catching herself, she looked up and saw her husband and her daughter in the living room. They were on the couch, sitting very close to each other in a way that made her think of couples she sometimes saw in trucks, the man driving, the woman in the middle where an armrest should be. She'd made a clicking sound with her tongue, loud enough for them to hear.