How do you survive when the desperate action of a loved one has shattered your family? In And Give You Peace, a young woman, Anastasia Dolarn, courageously examines her seemingly normal childhood to uncover the motivations behind an unspeakable tragedy. Jessica Treadway flawlessly portrays the complexity of human experience in the face of incomprehensible loss, revealing yet again why the New York Times Book Review has called her "a writer with an unsparing bent for the truth."
The title of this intensely imagined first novel by short story writer Treadway (Absent Without Leave) comes from a Christian hymn and benediction, and its denouement is fittingly redemptive. Set in a small town near Albany, N.Y., the story is narrated by Anastasia Grace Dolan, whose father, threatened with divorce, inexplicably killed himself and his youngest daughter, 16-year-old Meggy, one June morning 12 years earlier, leaving recent college graduate Anastasia, middle sister Justine and their mother to absorb the echoing horror. In virtually crime-free Ashmont, the shooting sent shock waves through the whole town. Thinking back on what she thought was an idyllic childhood, Anastasia tries to pinpoint when she first sensed that trouble was brewing, "looking for meaning in small, forgotten things." She remembers a modified cheerleading song ("We are the Dolans, mighty, mighty Dolans") the family would sing to ease themselves past difficult spots, a trip they took to Boston, a summer spent building a tree house. Her father, an unsuccessful car salesman, was always sensitive and finicky, but Anastasia wonders now whether his fixation on cleanliness and order might have been a full-fledged obsessive-compulsive disorder that spiraled his mind into madness. She wonders, too, about her mother, who seems to have recovered much too quickly from the murder-suicide. Although the author's vision of a viable peace for a shattered family is occasionally unfocused , the final impression she leaves is that of a loving regeneration of life through the flowering of memory and emotion. Treadway's careful craftsmanship and her unobtrusive grounding of the narrative with details of smalltown life add authenticity to a moving exploration of promising lives detoured into tragedy and reaffirmed through the sharing of buried secrets and a willingness to forgive.