Mourning Dove is the newest novel by Claire Fullerton. Set in 1970s Memphis it focuses on family, and how the 70s was not a time to openly talk about the negatives. I found it fascinating that it showed a type of live not often spoken about. The genteel society of the Southern states is not something that is usually elaborated upon. And it does seem to have a strange juxtaposition when you realise this was not too long ago. The style and behaviour of the characters at times made me feel as though the book was set in the 1800s. When you ignore the electricity and cars!
I will confess here that I found it somewhat difficult to relate to as I have never lead a privileged life and do not understand the obsession of having the outwardly, perfect live. I did also find it difficult to resonate with the characters. At times, I felt as though the lives they were leading were not something that has been experienced by a lot of people. But, it was nice to read something a little different from what I usually delve into.
******* Warning! This review may contain spoilers. If you do not wish to read any spoilers, please do not continue further *********
Memphis is a world foreign to Millie and Finley. This is the 1970s Memphis, the genteel world of their mother’s upbringing and vastly different from anything they’ve ever known. Here they are the outsiders. Here, they only have each other. And here, as the years fold over themselves, they mature in a manicured Southern culture where they learn firsthand that much of what glitters isn’t gold. Nuance, tradition, and Southern eccentrics flavor Millie and Finley’s world as they find their way to belonging. But what hidden variables take their shared history to leave both brother and sister at such disparate ends?
Initial thoughts on Mourning Dove
My first thoughts on the book revolved its slow get go. I felt as though I was getting backstory that didn’t seem to end. I I understand that Minnesota was not the intended setting of this book, but I feel it glossed over, too quickly, the move to Memphis. As the story is from Millie’s point of view, it could be this is reflect of how memory deceives you as she was only a young child. But I feel this is what has given me the impression that I was getting backstory, when what I really got was the story.
It did make my struggle with the first few chapters, as I was expecting the build up to be less incremental. But after the 7th chapter I was still struggling to understand where the story was headed. I do usually struggle when I can’t quite grasp the true meaning of the plot. But I was happy to continue on to see if it was somewhere that I’d not quite noticed.
The main character in Mourning Dove is Millie, who sets the scene of her childhood in Memphis, after the untimely death of her father. We see her struggle to deal with the grief that she is left with. She is unable to turn to her mother as the very idea of talking about your true emotions is just not the done thing. It seems this isolation is something which causes her a lot of problems in life.
For the first three-quarters of the book, we are given a rose-tinted view of Finley Crossan, Millie’s older brother. Millie adores her brother and believes that he can do no wrong. To me, I think this is why Finley ultimately ends up taking his own life. From a young age, he is described as being gifted, and intelligent, and seems to possess a unique understanding of music. When the band he has spent the majority of his adult life cultivating ends up in failure, Finley is unable to respond. He never had to witness his own failure and it is not something that he is used to.
Millie finds herself constantly comparing with her brother. She sees herself as a younger, less version of Finley. It seems as though this has an affect on the decisions she makes through life. I would have thought that this would be something that is delved into a little more after Finley’s death. As in how would Millie be able to resonate without this guiding influence in her life, but instead we are left with an epilogue that seems out of place and redundant. I would have more understanding on how Millie survived than be left wondering why the house was sold.
Thoughts on Finley
To me, Finley comes across as a rather selfish character. At least from the time he went to university until his death. He started out as a nice character, who clearly loved his sister and mother but as time progressed there seemed to be some type of change. From the way Millie tells it, he was the most intelligent person in the world and he knew it. For him, witnessing his own failure was a turning point that pushed him over the end.
His reading and interpretation of “A Course of Miracles” gave him the praise and attention that he had missed since the collapse of the band. At the end of the story, they speak as though this cult in Charlottesville was a new era for Finley. But I believe this was more of a continuation of what he wanted. When he was part of the band, he was followed and this type of following could also be described as cultish. To me, Finley was a self-centred egotist who was looking for the attention that he missed from his father.
I generally use the scale set by Goodreads to keep this in line with my reviews on there.
***** 2 out of 5 stars
I struggled with how slow the story of Mourning Dove was to get into. It was not something I am used to, and I found it made the story a little difficult to follow. It did give the feeling of being backstory, rather than story. Although I enjoyed having the chance to read something a little different, I don’t think this is something I would want to reread.
If you had a different interpretation of Mourning Dove, I’d love to hear what it is. Sometimes, it can be difficult to leave our own opinions. But with books, it is great to see how someone else can interpret the story.
Hasta la fuego