Pieta by William Zink

When impending death unearths the past.

Synopsis of Pieta by William Zink: Jim Priest's mother is dying. With his daughter beside him, he alternates caretaking duties with his sister. A year earlier his father died in a mysterious fashion--the head of the Virgin Mary from a lifelong sculpting project of The Pieta fell on top of him, killing him instantly. As days pass by, his mother falling in and out of coherency, the buried secrets of a bittersweet childhood re-emerge, forcing the four of them to accept, if not fully resolve, the limitations of their bonds. Pieta is a story about personal ambition, the anguish of unrequited affection, and the redemptive spirit of a young girl. In concise, elegant prose, William Zink examines the singular, yet universal, forces tugging at the hip of a family in the midst of its most epic chapter.

My thoughts

I got this book through the LibraryThing Member Giveaway and was pleasantly surprised to receive not only an autographed copy of Pieta but also a copy of Zink's poems Homage: Sonnets from the Husband. Thank you, William!

The book in one sentence: Jim takes care of his dying mother and unwittingly unearths family secrets.

This book deals with unpleasant subject matter - a dying parent. But it so reminded me of my grandfather's long illness and the effect on the people around him, that this book left me a tad unravelled.

It may seem a straightforward book - Jim and his sister Katie are taking care of their dying mother. A heartbreaking chore, seeing her slip away slowly. Delirious, weakening, and yearning to be reunited with her sculptor husband. Jim's young daughter, Alex gives a young and honest take on death and dying.

But this is definitely not a simple book. It is about the psychology of dying - where the living and the dying become much more open with each other to the point that even the deepest secrets are no longer sacred. And with exposure comes pain, regret, and slowly, eventually acceptance.

Sibling rivalries come to the fore. A new, more accurate picture of a dead father comes to light. Relationships are recontextualized. Childhood memories are put into perspective. This paves the way for building more honest relationships in the future.

This slim novel is packed with beautiful prose. Zink's writing is heartbreakingly honest. I especially loved this section on p. 83 which covers childhood, marriage, fatherhood and prayer in one paragraph:

When I was a boy, I did not think I could ever love anyone as much as I loved my mother. I married my wife, and told myself I could never love anyone more than I loved her. Now, gazing at my sleeping daughter, I dismissed both beliefs not as folly, but as greedy self-satisfying ardor. I trembled with emotion and wept, as I do often when I am alone driving to work, or at night when I am working in the yard, and see my daughters in my mind. Still, I cannot believe I have the privilege of being their father. When I consider it, I freeze up with fear. I think of all that could happen that might dissolve this dream. In this way, I have come to create a thing called prayer, which is not the hollow, grotesque thing called I was taught as a boy, but the thing that formed organically in my soul with the arrival, and then nurturing, of my daughters. My days are a prayer, my nights are too. My daughters feed the hole in me in ways my mother could not, and my wife would not. I am most alive when I am with them, and it is terrifying.

Verdict: A beautiful book to ruminate upon. Don't read when you're depressed or when it's just too nice and sunny outside.

1 comment

  1. I love family secrets. :)

    We are taking care of my mom so it is quite relevant. Maybe I need to hold off on this for a little until things settle, but it does sound quite good.

    THANKS for sharing.


© guiltless readingMaira Gall