The Crooked Branch: A Novel
by Jeanine Cummings
The book opens in modern-day New York, where Majella is in the hospital, laboring to bring her first baby into the world. After a long and difficult labor, she undergoes a c-section, a disappointment which seems to set the tone for her adjustment to new motherhood, which, she finds, is not what she expected it to be. Moreover, she doesn’t feel like she’s the mother she envisioned she would be. She suffers frequent and spontaneous crying jags, a feeling of loss of identity, and basically feels lost, adrift, and overwhelmed. Becoming a mother has also brought her relationship with her own mother into sharp focus, and leaves much to be desired. Her struggles are told with sensitivity and humor, and Majella is just so darn likeable as she tries to regain her footing and embrace this new role she’s taken on.
While Majella recuperates from her baby’s birth, she finds an old diary in the attic of her childhood home. The diary belonged to her great-great-grandmother, Ginny Doyle, who lived through the potato famine in Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century. The diary contains ominous references to a murder and the terrible resulting guilt Ginny lived with, and Majella is left wondering if she has somehow inherited “bad mother” genes from this distant ancestor.
We are presented with small bits of Ginny’s story by way of the diary, but her story is really told in alternating chapters with Majella’s story, and it is a harrowing and heart wrenching story. The author manages to intertwine the two stories of Majella and Ginny so deftly – I was truly in awe of her mastery of her craft.
Both stories are told so beautifully, so authentically . . . it’s one of those books that I felt as if I had climbed into and was witnessing firsthand every time I opened it. And I didn’t want to put it down! It kept me turning pages, wanting to know what was going to happen next.
I could relate to so much of Majella’s postpartum/new mother struggles, as I’ve experienced so much of it myself, and I thought the author did a wonderful job capturing the emotional roller coaster that new motherhood is for so many women. I felt like Majella was a down-to-earth girlfriend, and I often found myself nodding my head as I read her narrative. The story of Ginny and her family trying to survive the horrors of famine kept me on the edge of my seat, and I kept rooting for her. Both women’s stories had me laughing and crying at different times. This is one of those books that left me sorry to have read the last page because I had become so attached to the characters and I didn’t want the story to end.
This is a wonderful, gorgeous book that really got under my skin. Read it.