I waited far too long to read The Last Will of Moira Leahy by Therese Walsh. I should have read it early enough to tell you about it before Christmas so perhaps you’d buy it and share the treasure that I found there. But maybe it’s not too late—if you have any Christmas/holiday gift cash, it will be well invested in this novel.
Teri’s book touched me in ways that novels seldom do through the story of a woman who has . . . well, I won’t tell you a lot about it. Genrewise, it’s women’s fiction—however, as I sit here wiping my eyes, I’m thinking that’s a misnomer. How about “human being’s fiction?” There is a love story, but that most certainly isn’t what drives this tale. It also contains, quite naturally and effortlessly, elements of mystery and magical realism. The jacket flap says that it “. . .explores the intense bond of sisterhood as a grieving twin searches for her own identity in the ruins of her sister’s past.”
Since we focus here at FtQ on openings—and Teri submitted hers at one of my workshops long ago—here’s the opening page from The Last Will. In the tradition of FtQ, these are the first 16 lines as they would appear in a manuscript.
I lost my twin to a harsh November nine years ago. Ever since, I’ve felt the span of that month like no other, as if each of the calendar’s thirty perfect little squares split in two on the page. I wished they’d just disappear. Bring on winter. I had bags of rock salt, a shovel, and a strong back. I wasn’t afraid of ice and snow. November always lingered, though, crackling under the foot of my memory like dead leaves.
It was no wonder then that I gave in to impulse one November evening, left papers piled high on my desk and went to where I’d lost myself in the past with a friend. I thought I might evade memory for a while at the auction house, but I slammed into it anyhow. It was just November’s way.
Only this time, November surprised me.
I HAD to have it.
Just over a foot long, the wavy dagger looked ancient and as though it’d been carved from lava rock. The grooved base was a study in asymmetry, with one end swooping off in a jagged point and the other circling into itself like a tiny, self-protective tail or the crest of a wave. Gemstones filled a ring that bound metal to a cocked wood handle. Intricate engravings covered the silver sheath. If not for a small hole in the blade’s center, (snip)
Rather than plunging us into action with an immediate scene, Teri plunges us into a person, and does it with a singularly fetching voice—a phrase such as “crackling under the foot of my memory like dead leaves” promises a high level of narrative art, writing that will please your mind, and the book does not disappoint. Despite the lack of action or a scene in this opening, I feel that it nonetheless creates tension through the story questions it raises.
The story is told via two narratives that merge at the end to powerful effect. There is the present-day story of Maeve, the surviving twin, as that mysterious knife enters her life to eventually cut away the bonds that stifle her, bonds that she has created out of guilt and sorrow.
The second narrative is from the point of view of Moira, the twin of the title, and takes place in a series of scenes from childhood through to the tragic event that separates the sisters.
Since I knew from the start that something bad happened to Moira, but not what, I found that her narrative pulled at me in two ways—I wanted to read it because I wanted to know what happened, and I didn’t want to read it because I didn’t want it to happen. Her character, and that of her sister, were real to me, fully human, and a connection was most definitely there.
Which brings me to the pull of this story well told—I didn’t want to stop reading it. Once I let it get its hold on me, I could only put it down for the shortest period of time allowed by intervening events of life. There were times that the put-down moments lasted for only a few minutes, and they were caused by the narrative’s intensity reaching such a point in me that I needed to catch my mental breath before diving back in. This happened especially as the Moira side of the story grew closer and closer to the dark event that sunders their lives.
So, on this Christmas day, I’m thankful for the gift of story that my e-friend Therese Walsh (co-founder of the Writer Unboxed blog) has given me (and you, if you’re smart). I know I can’t wait until her next novel appears.
I won’t delay in reading that one. Nope, not a second.
Happy Holidays to all, and have a great writing new year. I know that I, for one, am inspired by the quality and caliber and sheer grace of Teri’s storytelling.