A Madonna in the Silky Colored Sky: A Maureen Joyce Connolly Book Review

by - April 02, 2019

A mother’s worst nightmare is losing her children, no matter what the scenario may be. In Maureen Joyce Connolly’s Little Lovely Things, mother of two, Claire Rawlings, watches that nightmare come to life.

Claire is a medical student at Northwestern University and suffers from a reaction to the Hepatitis C vaccine given to residents as a new strand of the virus was going around healthcare facilities. The reaction hits the worst while driving with her daughters, 4-year-old Andrea and 1-year-old Lily, and forces her to pull over at a gas station. The next thing she does will haunt her for the rest of her life: she leaves her daughters sleeping in the car as she runs to the gas station’s bathroom and almost immediately passes out.

Moira Kelly and Eamon O’Neill belong to – or used to belong to – an ethnic group called the Irish Travellers. Shunned from their own community, the two stumble across the Rawlings’ station wagon and Eamon decides that this was how they would finally have their own family. When Claire finally wakes, the vehicle is long gone and so are the Travellers and the children.

The story is set in Chicago in 1991; however both the year and city are barely touched on aside from a mention of pay phones, Lake Shore Drive and the southwest suburb of Naperville. It changes points of view for each chapter, from Moira and Claire to Andrea and Jay White, a passerby who becomes a central part in the Rawlings’ case.

Four long years go by before Claire and her husband Glen finally receive closure on what has happened to their girls. During that time, the reader gets to dive into the inner thoughts of each character. Claire’s relationship with Glen is deteriorating and she constantly reminds herself that she assumes Glen blames her for everything that happened. Moira must raise Andrea – now called Colleen – on her own and can’t seem to shake the stories of Travellers folklore that haunt her dreams. Andrea/Colleen, in the most detailed descriptions for someone under the age of 10, channels the old life that she can’t remember into art. Jay can’t escape the tragedy of the Rawlings family and becomes their unlikely hero in more ways than one.

While this fast-paced drama does end abruptly, Little Lovely Things does a great job of character development and interweaving story lines. The reader can feel the grief felt by Claire, the lack of love felt by Moira, the curiosity felt by Andrea and the spiritual longing felt by Jay. It’s an unexpected plot with unexpected characters, and entirely up to the reader to decide what constitutes as a happy ending.

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