I purchased Mourning Dove by Claire Fullerton for two reasons. First, I had read Dancing to an Irish Reel which takes place in my favorite place—Ireland—and thoroughly enjoyed it so I knew I enjoyed her style of writing. Second, Mourning Dove takes place in Memphis in the 1970s. I lived for a few years during the ‘70s in the Mississippi Delta and I was curious how the backdrop of Mourning Dove fit into my recollections of the place and the era.
From the beginning, I was intrigued because the narrator of the story, Millie Crossan, mentions that her beloved brother Finley is dead. I found myself wondering with each twist in the journey whether that would be the moment he dies, and it cast a bittersweet mood over the book, knowing that each moment of his life was precious and it would be cut short way too soon.
Family dynamics come to life through a loving and caring but alcoholic father and we view Memphis society through their socialite mother as the parents separate and divorce and the mother remarries. Finley seems grounded and wise beyond his years, providing stability and refuge for Millie. Music becomes part of the backdrop as Finley joins a band and it appears that success is imminent. And though Millie eventually graduates, gets married, miscarries and is divorced, the book is not about her relationship with her boyfriend/spouse or friends in Memphis as much as it is an ode to her brother and the vital role he played in her life. They are almost like soul mates, weaving through their own lives yet always finding their way back to the other despite the miles that eventually separates them.
When I finished Mourning Dove, I was struck by the brevity of life and how quickly it plays itself out. I was also reminded that regardless of the paths we take in adulthood, our lives are truly formed by those early years. It brought back memories for me of a different time and place, a bygone era that seems cruel and crude in comparison with today’s enlightenment. It reminded me just how far we have come, and how far we have yet to go.