In the aftermath examines the effects of tragedy on those left behind
Jane Ward keeps coming back to two loves: books and baking.
The first led to a degree in English Literature from Simmons University and a passion for advocacy in the library. The latter resulted in a career in the hospitality and food industries, including a job in a downtown bakery serving everything from commuter coffee to special birthday cakes. Both come together in Ward’s career as an author whose third novel, In the aftermathstarts with a bakery in trouble.
“I wanted to write a book that started in 2008, the period [of] financial crisis,” Ward says over the phone from her home in Chicago. After working in that bustling bakery in the early 2000s, she says, “I decided I would make that the centerpiece of what happens to this family when they invest so heavily in their bakery, and the loans they took out to renovate it, and [how] everything falls apart.”
The aftermath of the book’s title refers to Boston bakery owner David Herron, who secretly experiences overwhelming embarrassment over the company’s financial troubles and commits suicide. In the aftermath follows those left behind to deal with the consequences of David’s final choice two years later, including his widow Jules, who now works at the bakery she co-owned; daughter Rennie, who struggles with high school and blames herself for David’s suicide; and former cop Denise Healey, who regrets the way she handled David’s case. Meanwhile, ex-banker Daniel Hopper believes he is at fault and as punishment leads a solitary existence of chores while revealing his identity:
His full name – Daniel Fulke Hopper – had become a burden. Villains always seemed to have three names, and his had been getting attention in the papers for a few weeks, in connection with defaults and suicide… A little over a month after that meeting, he’d only taken his essentials and ran away from everything. different. Nothing he’d owned, nothing he and Stacy had together, had been worth the price of a man’s life. Perhaps by denying himself a full life he would stop hearing “Mr. Hopper’ in the widow’s angry voice, looping himself over and over, reminding him who he was and what he’d done.
Ward initially resisted the vehement topic of suicide. “I tried every other plotting device I could think of,” she admits. †[I thought] maybe the main character can just walk away? [But] I realised [that] in this day and age you can’t disappear like you could 20 or 30 years ago.”
However, instead of focusing entirely on David, Ward decided to document the struggles of his surviving family and those of two other people involved before and after the suicide.
“I found it interesting to think about what happens to people in the aftermath,” she says. “People look at the family devastated by [suicide] will talk about ‘what a selfish act’, ‘how could they have done it?’
“That’s part of how we deal with it,” Ward admits. “But I know that the person in it is… either attracted to their own mental health issues or… [by] a problem they just can’t solve.” Written In the aftermathshe says: “I wanted to go beyond the initial response and get into what it means for those involved. I think we’re doing them a disservice if we don’t look at the issue more broadly and try to figure out what’s going on. ”
While Ward was not immediately struck by suicide when she started the novel, this changed two years later. “A friend of ours took his own life,” she recalls. “I stopped and thought: Can I continue with this story?After serious consideration, Ward remembered why she wanted to write the book. “I thought there was a reason for telling this, a reason to help people understand and empathize in these situations.”
The characters’ struggles are often reflected in the novel’s bird images, which were inspired by Ward’s time living in Switzerland.† After her two grown children left their home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Ward’s husband was offered a job in Geneva, and the couple moved abroad for three years. “We were right on Lake Geneva,” Ward says of their home outside the city. “We spent a lot of time by the lake, in the countryside. I’m not a bird watcher per se, but there were a lot of species I wasn’t used to so I would go home and look them up in the local bird guide.”
One such species was the gray heron, unlike the blue herons found in the United States. The persona both appealed to Ward and reminded her of her characters. “They are very lonely,” she says. †[The gray heron] became to me a symbol of someone who was only struggling with things he couldn’t solve and didn’t want to talk about with the people around him.”
Kirkus gave In the aftermath a starred review called the book “[a]An insightful and psychologically astute story of ordinary people moving on from a personal tragedy.” Ward is delighted with the award: “I think my heart stopped beating for a moment when the star review came out,” she says, but she’s not resting on her laurels. She is currently working on a novel about motherhood, remembering the love of literature she passed on to the next generation.
“My daughter is probably the best writer I know, [and] my son can write well too!” she says. “I always read to both children in the evening. We all love stories. We just love them.”
Lauren Emily Whalen is the author of four books for young adults. She lives in Chicago.