Review by: Emily Koon

May 2003

And Give You Peace
By Jessica Treadway
ISBN: 1555973159

“It’s odd how our brains are constructed…giving us flashes of truth and then, thank God, allowing us to forget what we’ve seen in that split second the window was open.”

These words are the theme of Jessica Treadway’s novel And Give You Peace, whose narrator Ana grapples with issues of grief and loss following the violent deaths of her father and sister. The opening chapters more than hint that the bonds of family security have dissolved, though it is not until we are into the thick of the novel that we learn the details. Only toward the end do we learn why. Figuring out why, and learning to incorporate that information into a newly forged identity is the subject of And Give You Peace.

The novel’s opening focuses on the Dolan family as it was prior to the deaths. Treadway begins by giving us the first precious details of the quirky family just before the father shot his youngest daughter and himself. We find the three sisters, Ana, Justine, and Meggy, their levelheaded mother, and their father, who clearly suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It is a rich family scene, dotted with great tangible particulars like strawberry refrigerator magnets and Bill Buckner, the family dog.

Reading these early scenes, one gets a sense of what has already been lost. The neat American Dream tableau has already exploded with hints of mental illness and marital discord. The image is all the more painful due to the fact that the author, like the narrator, is unable to hide her love for these characters.

The novel opens with the memory of a scene aboard the warship USS Constitution in Boston Harbor. Ana tells us she has spent recent years “looking for meaning in small, forgotten things.” The voice is from the unspecified future, long after the deaths and the painful year of reconstruction that followed. In this scene, a prophetic act of parental concern for child occurs. Ana’s father verbally berates the Constitution tour guide for using youngest daughter Meggy to demonstrate Revolutionary soldiers’ use of small children to transport ammunition. He is most opposed to the guide’s open admission that many of the children were killed or injured by gunfire. This gesture echoes ironically with the murder-suicide later in the novel, and serves as the springboard for the narrator’s attempt to assign meaning to the violence.

From here, Ana pushes forward through the years, pausing at the moment of the deaths to explain with grisly accuracy how her father killed himself and Meggy. The scene, and the events surrounding it, takes up comparatively little space in the novel, functioning rather as a bridge between points in time on either side.

In the second section, the real darkness of the act chipping away at the survivors’ sanity emerges. We learn more details of the deaths, and of the psychological circumstances that spurred them. Ana’s relationship with a young policeman on the case is key in many of these revelations. His attempts to soothe her grief by providing information and friendship launch her on a mission to unearth the truth of her parents’ marital troubles and her father’s mental disorder. What we see in the end is not a family unraveling, but rather one that has not been raveled for some time.

This novel is, among many things, about memory. As it reaches closure, we learn that the telling itself is shaped by Ana’s livelihood as a scientific researcher of memory. This obsession accounts for the novel’s layered feel with regard to time and recollection—the way present time seeps through scenes from the past, reminding us that the story is less about the deaths than Ana’s attempt to reform her identity in the wake of the resulting chaos. The story then becomes a medium for asking questions and seeking answers. What is memory? What is its effect on an individual’s physical and mental well being? She offers no conclusion to these, only the evidence that her life continues in spite of her pain.

And Give You Peace is Jessica Treadway’s first novel. She has also published a short story collection entitled Absent Without Leave, which received the John C. Zacharis First Book Award from Ploughshares magazine.

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