Review: After the Eclipse

A Mother’s Murder, A Daughter’s Search

After the Eclipse
A Mother’s Murder, A Daughter’s Search
Sarah Perry
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Until she was 12, Sarah Perry had a mother she adored. Crystal Perry was 30 when she was raped and stabbed to death in the kitchen of their Bridgton home. Sarah had been sleeping in the next room. The murderer was not caught for 12 years.

Perry’s story of her mother’s brutal death, the before and after, covers a lot of ground. “After the Eclipse” is the story of a crime, the investigation into it and the trauma that viciously shakes and shapes a child’s life. But more than that, it is the story of an adult daughter’s journey to know her mother and to humanize a victim of a sensational crime in a small town where gossip and rumors thrive.

“I began this story eighteen years after her death—when I myself was thirty. In that moment we had lived without each other for an equal amount of time … But the months passed and I found myself living years she never had, years that had been impossible to imagine. I have worked to bring her forward into them with me,” Perry writes.

Her memories of her mother “are all small pieces, like shards of colored glass in a kaleidoscope; I spin and combine them to make a glowing, shifting picture. But they are finite in number.” So to know her, Perry melds her memories with what she learns years later from Crystal’s family, friends, police reports and even the notes of a therapist her mother had been seeing in the months before her murder.

Straightforward and even surprisingly dispassionate in some instances, considering the subject matter, Perry lays out her mother’s history—her unstable upbringing as one of 10 children, her short-lived marriage at age 16 that produced Sarah, and her subsequent relationships with emotionally explosive men. She also recalls her hard-working mother’s gentleness and her dreams of making a good life for her daughter. They were a pair through thick and thin. Her mother would take her on outings to the art museum in Portland and go on long walks with her in the woods. They marveled at a partial eclipse of the sun. One of Crystal’s dreams came true when she bought a small house in Bridgton that she and Sarah decorated and which she kept immaculately clean. “She was drawing a force field around us, creating a magically calm space, free from chaos.”

After the murder, Perry, as the only witness, was frequently interrogated by police. They thought she knew the murderer and was protecting him. At one point, she even was the suspect. Police revisited the open case with her over the years, as she was shuffled to live with one aunt and then another. She gets little emotional support. All the while, she’s afraid the murderer will find her and kill her. She escapes to college in North Carolina, where, still haunted by the past, she has relationship issues of her own. “I had a ‘little problem with overlap.’ I was barely aware that I chained my loves together just as my mother had; I never would have admitted how deeply I needed someone.”

Still, this is Perry’s story of her mother, far from a self-indulgent study of her own turmoil. Her findings bring forth the jealousies and judgments batted about in Bridgton and the biases of law enforcement when the victim is a young, single mother who liked to dress up for a night on the town, who men noticed, whose dismal family history was known.

Perry says she dreamed of the day her mother’s murderer would be found guilty and sentenced. He was, but that didn’t heal her or give her the answers she sought. “After the Eclipse” is her effort to do that. With it, she gives readers the picture of the loving mother she so loved and continues to miss.

Amy Canfield is an editor, writer and bibliophile. She lives in South Portland.

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