Thursday, September 16, 2021

In the Aftermath by Jane Ward


David Herron and his wife Jules own a bakery. Jules is a baker extraordinaire. She bakes artisanal bread, complicated cakes, and delicious cookies. David, an accountant, attends to the financial details—or so Jules thinks. One morning in that worst of years to have monetary problems—2008, David doesn’t show up for work. He’s called his best friend Charlie to meet him at a coffee shop by the beach to talk, but Charlie is running late so David takes off his shoes and walks into the water leaving the heartache of overextended loans and a twice-mortgaged home, problems he still hasn’t revealed to Jules, behind. He’d tried to convince his wealthy father to bail him out and things might have changed had his father agreed to go with him to the bank that morning, but he hadn’t so David kept walking into the sea. 

Two years later, David and Jules’s daughter Rennie blames herself for her father’s death. If only I’d been nicer that morning, she thinks. His best friend Charlie who arrived twenty minutes late to meet David on the shore blames himself too. If only I’d been there, he berates himself. Daniel, the young banker who called in David’s loans, also thinks he’s to blame so he quits his job and leaves the town and his family and wanders. If only I’d tried to give him more time, he ponders. Even Denise, the police detective who worked the case, thinks she mishandled it and wants to make amends. If only she’d paid more attention, she worries. 

All of them are dealing with the “if onlys” by taking different paths. At the center of them all, stands Jules, now an employee baking cupcakes at their former bakery that David’s father turned into a cupcake emporium after paying off the bakery loans. She hates the job since David’s father has also installed a bully as the other baker, a man watching her every move. That author Jane Ward has worked as a baker is evident in the realism of the scenes showing Jules working at a frenzied pace in the bakery and later in the cupcake store. She has no money and her stress at trying to cope with her losses leaves her only capable of half-listening to her daughter Rennie’s problems. She and all the characters in the novel are searching for ways to move past their guilt and grief and toward finding a way to forgive themselves. 

The joy of this page-turner you’ll want to read in a day is that author Jane Ward builds multi-dimensional characters that readers will care about. She makes you see yourself in each character as you consider how we all make mistakes and we all leave an aftermath of loss when we do so. The multiple points of view keep the story building in stair steps leading to a view of the tremendous impact that one man’s suicide has on so many.

Even the activities of the most minor characters are rendered with exquisite care as in Daniel’s interaction with his coworker’s son Josh at a marsh.

The grownups followed Josh’s outstretched arm as it pointed to the sky. In the stunted trees, the egrets were rousing themselves, shaking off their lethargy. Feathers ruffled and fluffed as, one by one, the birds unfolded themselves and stretched, all enormous wing spans and ungainly movement, and they pushed off their branches or stumps and took flight, rearranging their awkward bodies into streamlined torpedoes as massive wings beat against the air and propelled them into the sky. Soon the trees were empty, the birds gone without a trace.”

That section made me feel as if I were standing in that marsh as the egrets rose. It also reminded me of how quickly things can change. Just as the birds were gone without a trace, so had David vanished into the sea. It was now up to those left in the aftermath to shake off their lethargy and push off from their branches or stumps and take flight no matter how awkward it might feel for them to do so.

Summing it Up: In the Aftermath embeds the reader in the lives of the family, friends, and others connected to the sudden death of David Herron. The story will capture you on the first page and pull you along so speedily, you won’t want to set it down for even a minute. However, you will set it aside just long enough to look up so you too can ponder the “if onlys” and think about the difference you might make and who you might forgive—even if it’s yourself. You’ll read In the Aftermath quickly, but you’ll spend a long time afterward thinking about the lives of the characters so intimately touched by such a deep and unexpected loss. 

Kirkus Reviews awarded it a coveted star and Foreword called it “a masterful novel.”

Rating: 5 stars

Categories: Fiction. Five Stars, Grandma’s Pot Roast, Book Club

Publication Date: September 21, 2021

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Foreword Reviews: 

Kirkus Reviews, starred review:

“Jane Ward’s In the Aftermath is a big-hearted, relationship-rich page-turner that will leave you thinking deeply about resilience, intimacy, family, loyalty, and truth.”  — Kristin Bair, author of Agatha Arch Is Afraid of Everything

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