Can a couple’s marriage survive a life-changing loss when one of them is responsible for the tragedy?
That’s the question off the back cover of Peter Friedrichs’ first novel, And The Stars Kept Watch. Friedrichs, a former lawyer and longtime minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Delaware County, delivers a deeply empathetic story about Nathan and Catherine, a young couple with a growing family and idyllic life — until one of them makes a choice with terrible consequences. It’s a rough opening that had me wondering if I wanted to see the story through. I’m glad I did. The book — a meditation, of sorts, on the limits and possibilities of resilience, forgiveness and hope — rewarded me for sticking with it.
One of the strengths of the book is its patience. The story doesn’t lack for twists and turns, but it doesn’t rush, it hews to reality, and it saves some of its best moments till the end.
Peter and a friend, a therapist whose namesake is a therapist in the book, engaged in a short discussion of the book and its themes earlier this evening at Swarthmore College (the two did something similar online recently). We spent part of our time considering the nature of hope:
- Where does it come from?
- Are we born with it or do we generate it over our lifetimes?
- Do some families, either naturally or intentionally, instill hope as a foundational orientation in their members?
- Can you hope to hope even if your family is not so hopeful?
My answers are pretty hopeful, but I grew up in a family that, I think, overindexes for hope formation, so hopefulness is rarely a heavy lift for me.
The discussion also turned to how, as COVID continues to impact and disconnect our lives as we head into a third calendar year, all couples are grieving couples, in some ways. One of the joys of relationship is the parting and coming together, bringing back what we’ve seen and learned. In a world where nobody goes much anywhere, stagnation (and a bit of interpersonal chafing) is built into the equation. And it can get much worse than that. My favorite songwriter, Jason Isbell, has a song, Flagship, where he sings:
And there’s a couple in the corner of the bar
Who traveled light and clearly traveled far
And she’s got nothing left to learn about his heart
And they’re sitting there a thousand miles apart
Sounds like a common trap in month 20 of covid times.
Anyway, I heartily recommend the book if you’re looking for a serious but nourishing gift for the right friend or family member this holiday season — someone willing to read about tragedy, and what comes after.
Peter’s a friend, but I’d feel the same way about the book if I only met him tonight. And I look forward to whatever he writes next. He brings his intelligence and humanity to everything he does. You can find out more about his writing here.