After the Fire, a Still Small Voice: A Novel by Evie Wyld
There are times you finish reading a book and are just so stunned by its incredible beauty you have trouble putting your thoughts into words. That's exactly how I felt about 'After the Fire, a Still Small Voice.'
Wyld tells parallel stories of two generations in a family prone to devastating depression, consoled by too much love of the bottle. Both main male characters serve in wars, and both return with severe post-traumatic stress disorder. One strikes out at the woman he loves; the other becomes a shell of the man he was.
As for the female characters, they remain more in the background, and are more acted upon than acting themselves. Their dealings and reactions are somewhat muted, but the tale is told through the minds of the two male characters, so it's not as if the women are intentionally slighted. In fact, it's the two men and their treatment of the women they love that's so often center-stage.
Leon, the son and second generation, and his story dominate the book. His experiences in the war are given first-hand, and his complete nervous breakdown the centerpiece of the story. The reader comes to sympathize with him, even with all his faults, and he truly pulls at the heart.
To say this is among the best works of contemporary literary fiction I've read would not be a stretch. I can hardly think of ways to enthuse about it that don't sound cliched. With some books that's the way it is. They touch you to the core, and the writer's prose is heartbreakingly beautiful. There aren't words to describe writing so moving, save the word "perfection," but I'm afraid that one's been thrown around so much it has little meaning.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Its depiction of love and loss is drama of the highest achievement. If this wins no awards I'll be shocked. It's deserving of the highest accolades. It moved me to my very soul.
I envy those yet to read it for the first time. You cannot come away from it unmoved.
Pantheon, August 2009
Hardback, $ 24.95, 296 pp.