Published by Knopf
Publication date: August 4th 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction
Normally, if I were to begin by saying a novel was messy it would not be a good thing, but Days of Awe by Lauren Fox is a messy novel, much in the same way life is messy. Isabel Moore is a wife, mother, and fifth grade teacher. She lives a somewhat insulated live surrounded by her husband, daughter Hannah, and best friend of fifteen years, Josie. When Josie is killed in a car accident that insulation comes apart and once it begins to shred Isabel can’t seem to stop it.
That’s what my brain felt like on the day of my best friend’s funeral and for many weeks after: a confounding map of twisted, barely navigable roads that were long and tangled and led nowhere but doubled back without warning and ended up where they began.
Josie was also a teacher and Hannah’s godmother. She had been with Isabel through her difficulties in getting and staying pregnant before Hannah’s birth and the several miscarriages that followed. Now, without Josie, Isabel is faced with the decay of her marriage and living with a teenager who wants nothing to do with her. The status quo is gone and in its place is a reality she wants no part of.
For a novel that deals largely with life’s emotional turbulence there is still humor in Days of Awe. One of my favorite passages is Isabel’s description of Teacher’s Conference—those two days every fall when school is closed so teachers can go to developmental training sessions. Or so the schools would have us believe…
Those two nights in October were an orgy of raucous complaining and drunken revelry, foul-mouthed ranting, sloppy flirting, and hilarious, alcohol-fueled gossip marathons.
This humor provides a needed balance to Days of Awe (and confirms my long-held belief that Teachers’ Development days are a total boondoggle), because Isabel is flawed and confused and at times not a terribly sympathetic person. Her relationships with her husband and daughter are not easy to understand and she seems to miss important cues, like her daughter’s not sleeping at night. In couples therapy her husband says
“There’s so much darkness in you, Iz. I don’t know. I didn’t see it before. Was it always there? Maybe we only worked as a couple when things were easy.”
We don’t see much of Isabel like this either. The novel begins with Josie’s funeral and moves forward from that point, with only brief forays into the past. As time passes and even Josie’s husband begins to move on, Isabel cannot. She is always dark and largely negative, a cloud covered sky with only a few moments of sunshine. While this can feel like too much as the novel goes on I came to see it as a sign of Fox’s skill at maintaining the integrity of her story. Isabel is not coping and can’t see her way clear to moving past her grief and in this way, Days of Awe ends with honesty, as messy and painful as it began.