” Oh God, how many tears have there been? How much unhappiness and despair and exhaustion and anger and loneliness and misunderstanding? For it seemed at this moment that all the people she had ever known in her life had been weeping, all the days and nights of the past months had been full of nothing but tears. ” (Part III, Ch.15, 242)
The quiet novel was first published in 1974, when the author’s fiancé at the time died suddenly of heart attack. The book opens with the death of Ben Bryce, a young man in his 20s whom reader will only get to know posthumously but someone who clearly has left his imprint on all who knew him. In the Springtime of the Year, spanning about 9 month’s time, begins with the news of Ruth’s husband’s death in early March until the last page in December, when she emerges from her grief.
So they talked about her, Dora Bryce, and Alice, and the wives and mothers of the men Ben had worked with, and told anyone who passed through the village too. They waited for her to go mad and run about the countryside stark naked, to be taken away. To be found dead. (Part I, Ch.1, 23)
Ruth is withdrawn in her own grief, resisting help and resenting other people’s grief. She embraces bereavement alone, refusing to be comforted. Cut off from Ben’s family, who never approved of her. She tries to make sense of Ben’s tragic death, but other events external to her grief will occupy her and eventually deliver her from grief. Her in-laws are equally devastated—but they are not likable. At the head of the Bryce house is an egotistically blinkered and selfish mother who has ruined her grown daughter’s life and despised Ruth. She is inconsolable because she fails to affect her two sons. Her grief is so overwhelming that she refuses to have closure.
Obviously the object of In the Springtime of the Year is a dissection of grief. As grief has to run its course, every page of the book is devoted to moments of grief. The story of healing is also a meditation on the nature of sudden tragedy. But it seems to drag with lots of irrelevant description and not much happening.
254 pp. Vintage Books. Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]