“The Axe Can Fall At Any Moment.”
This is one of my favorite passages from A Death In The Family.
It comes not long after Jay Follet’s death. His wife, Mary, is understandably heartbroken and suffering. She has two kids to raise alone now.
There’s tension between Mary and her family. She’s a devout Catholic, while the rest of her family are agnostics at best.
After the death, her father sits down with her and offers somewhat bleak but very straightforward advice that I think would be relevant to anyone who has recently suffered the unexpected death of a loved one. He’s trying to help her understand how to move forward.
“Just spunk won’t be enough; you’ve got to have gumption. You’ve got to bear it in mind that nobody that ever lived is specially privileged; the axe can fall at any moment, on any neck, without any warning or any regard for justice. You’ve got to keep your mind off of pitying your own rotten luck and setting up any kind of howl about it. You’ve got to remember that things as bad as this and a hell of a lot worse have happened to millions of people before and that they’ve come through it and you can too. You’ll bear it because there isn’t any choice–except to go to pieces. . . It’s kind of a test, Mary, and it’s the only kind that amounts to anything. When something rotten like this happens. Then you have your choice. You start to really be alive, or you start to die. That’s all.”
All of this is true, in my opinion. It’s just very bluntly articulated.
Imagine an older, agnostic, southern grandfather (and I realize that “agnostic, southern grandfather” almost sounds like an oxymoron) saying that in the early 1900s, and you get an even better idea of the situation. I imagine his voice sounded a little scruffy and cigarette-stained.
This is a good novel, an emotional novel for sure, but a good novel.