(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie APR 3, 2005)
I was deeply moved by After Moses, a novel about three eccentric siblings and their off-beat parents, set in a small southern Ohio town. Riveted to the page, it didn't take me longer than 24 hours to reach the book's conclusion. At the end, I wasn't sure that the members of the Tumarkin family are that much stranger, or more neurotic, than anyone else. Their ideals, however, and their deeply held convictions on personal freedom, creativity, honesty, spontaneity, child rearing, and the deep abiding love and respect they have for each other, are 'weirdnesses' one should aspire to.
Shoe Tumarkin's murder is the catalyst which brings the novel's primary characters together. Shoe was the oldest of three siblings, the one who chose to live life on the edge. She was tough because she made herself so. "To combat the shackles of safety she confronted fear." If she thought a particular situation held possibilities of humiliation, loneliness, pain or pleasure, she would seek it out, just to overcome the inherent danger. Conquering her fears did not feel like recklessness to her. She was able to overcome her fight or flight instincts - not altogether a good thing, certainly not for Shoe.
She leaves behind a five year-old son, Moses, an intelligent, loving, observant boy who finds joy in life. It seems as if all the good traits of his relatives, combine to make this one small child. Moses might be the novel's strongest character.
Ida is a talented artist, gifted, and in many ways the total opposite of her older sister. While Shoe moved where the wind took her, Ida has never left home. At 34 she has never held a regular job, never traveled except to a national park with her family on vacation. Nor has she had a boyfriend or romantic relationship. Her mind is where her adventures take place, and she enacts rich fantasies closer to home, by herself or with loved ones. "Her real life sprung from her imagination, like a strange and peerless flower fed on nothing more than rarified air." Not comfortable with most people, Ida goes in disguise whenever she is called upon to make public appearances. Her paintings sometimes save people, sometimes bring them together, and sometime play a special role in a novel, like this one.
Johnny, the youngest, is very like his two sisters, yet like no other. He is stubborn and won't be led, as was Shoe. He prefers to be alone, as does Ida. And many of his jobs allow him to be in the wilderness, on his own. Johnny is fiercely loyal and has good insight, especially into the characters of family members. And he is protective of those he loves.
Shoe leaves a will, unusual for someone in their thirties. Her $85,000 insurance policy goes to Moses, along with most of the paintings Ida has given her. Three of the canvases go to Emily, her best friend. Johnny is bequeathed all her ski equipment, camping and climbing gear, and topo maps. Ida is to be Moses' guardian - the boy and his aunt adore one another. Moses' father is never mentioned or named. And finally, Shoe requests that if both Johnny and Emily are unmarried at the time of her death, that the two marry - each other.
Although not a typical thriller-suspense novel, this book has all the tension and mystery of one. From early on, one is imbued with a sense of foreboding, especially after a tall charming stranger enters the family portrait.
Karen Mockler's narrative is taut, but also lyrical, especially when describing the natural world. Her characters are so realistic and compelling, that they almost leap off the page. She vividly portrays the family's individual members and how they come to terms with life after Shoe's death, and after Moses comes to live with them. The Tumarkin family is a lure that is hard to resist. Mrs. Turmarkin retreats from the world with the death of her eldest daughter. It is Moses who brings her back, occasionally. Mr. Tumarkin, a college professor, withdraws into academic life. There is an electric quality, however, a wonderful energy, hovering over them all, even when stressed to the max.
After Moses is ultimately about choices - about how one chooses to live life and what we do when most choices are taken away from us. This is an extraordinary novel and I highly recommend it.
- Amazon readers rating: from 3 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- After Moses (June 2003)
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About the Author:
Karen Mockler was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska and received her BA in English from the University of Nebraska - Lincoln and three Master's degrees: from Miami University of Ohio (English Literature), the University of Arizona (Creative Writing), and the University of Colorado (Environmental Journalism). Mockler has been writing novels since the eighth grade, but is glad After Moses is the first to see print. She works as a freelance writer, copy editor, radio reporter, and part-time librarian. Mockler lives in Cody, Wyoming, with her very hairy dog, her newts, and her fiancé.