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“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.

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10 Comments Post a comment
  1. That line of advice might be called “old-school parenting”. No one else is going to cut through the noise quite like a parent.

    Great passage.

    Like

    July 25, 2013
  2. deweydecimalsbutler #

    I’ve always maintained that weddings and funerals tell us the most about ourselves. And yes, “Agnostic” and “Southern grandfather” aren’t usually found in the same sentence, I agree,

    Like

    July 25, 2013
  3. alysekatnelson #

    Reblogged this on I'm Alyse. .

    Like

    July 25, 2013
  4. Wonderful passage. I remember the book from the little boy’s point of view but it has been many years since I read this. I remember crying through parts of it.

    Like

    July 25, 2013
    • Yep. There’s a passage that actually made me cry. I’m posting about it next week.

      Like

      July 25, 2013
  5. When I saw you were reading this I said, okay, this sounds like one I just won’t be able to read being married to a young father, but that passage made me change my mind. thanks.

    Like

    July 25, 2013
  6. This is one of my favorite novels. I just reread it again this year. Every minute of it just seems so true. The scene when Mary and her parents and everyone are sitting up after hearing about Jay’s death and the conversation swings between tragedy and mundane stuff, and everybody’s worrying about whether they’re properly supporting Mary in her time of need, and Mary just kind of wants them all to go away. It’s like a friggin’ documentary.

    Like

    July 26, 2013

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