In a culture that is fixated on violence as entertainment, and is becoming increasingly desensitized to random acts of manslaughter, it’s easy to forget that murder is not only a horrific plot device or a stomach-dropping headline; we don’t really give much time or attention to victims of crime for very long before we move on to the next big thing. Sarah Perry’s memoir, After the Eclipse, is not only a heartbreaking account of the worst possible scenario, your mother’s violent murder taking place in the next room while you sleep, but it is also a valuable exploration of victimhood and survival.
While carefully detailing her life with, and then without, her mother, Crystal, Perry manages to examine the rippling effects of her grandmother’s co-dependent, abusive relationships on her children, and also comes to grips with the fraught lives of her mother’s friends and partners with sage-like wisdom and empathy. Reading Perry’s words not only left me with a profound respect for her both as a person and a writer, but also with a deep respect for Crystal. I didn’t get the sense that it was Crystal’s death that had forced Perry to be wise beyond her years, but rather that she was able to cope and grow into herself because of her mother’s strong influence. Crystal seemed to impart a resilience to Perry long before her death. Even as she struggled in relationships and through her own issues, she managed to always land on her feet and build a happy life for her daughter (even if, as it turns out, she was not so happy herself).
I don’t mean to make too light of Perry’s experiences, or to imply that After the Ecplipse aims to wrap everything up in a nice, neat box. Instead, I think it was Perry’s willingness to dig in and really understand her mother’s life in its full messiness that was so compelling. She doesn’t gloss over her imperfections, and she is not creating a revision of her life; in letting Crystal be fully Crystal we can begin to understand the utter horror of her death because we too have started to feel Crystal as a friend. We want to believe that life will end when we are ready, when we have achieved everything we’ve set out to do, or that it will at least end during a nice intermission. It is difficult to consider that someone can be in the middle of their own reckoning when they are senselessly stabbed to death.
In focusing primarily in telling her mother’s story, though, I did lose some of Perry herself. I found myself wanting to know how, or if, she tried to make sense of what happened, or if she found any sort of closure once Crystal’s killer had been identified. I wanted to know if she would have had more closure if Crystal’s killer had been someone else, or if it was better that it wasn’t. But, I’m willing to give Perry a pass. The book is beautifully written, and Perry respectfully invites us into her life. Perhaps this is why I didn’t want to leave her. I turned the final page and wanted to invite her over to share a bottle of wine. It’s probably selfish to want more, and I’m certain there is no closure or sense-making in the face of your mother’s murder. She simply went on with her life because there was nothing else to do.
*Feature image credit: Doug Kerr. I added the vintage photo texture and color filter.