With more than thirty Gemini Awards under her belt, actress and comedian Mary Walsh has just added author to her impressive resume.
Walsh describes Crying For the Moon as “…a combination coming of age story and murder mystery.” The novel is set in St. John’s in the early seventies, our protagonist, Maureen Brennan, is a teenage girl from a low-income family who is forced to drop out of school because of an unwanted pregnancy.
She soon finds herself trapped in an abusive relationship with the prospect of leaving feeling increasingly impossible. When her boyfriend, Bo, suddenly turns up dead, Maureen has to figure out who killed him in order to clear her own name.
In murder mysteries, violence is often treated as a plot device and very little time is spent exploring its emotional impact. So the danger of mashing together the story of a young woman struggling with intimate partner violence and a whodunit is that it seems to risk trivializing the experience of people living with abuse. In this case however, the genre-bending works because Maureen is such a complex and convincing character.
Although the story is told in the third person, the stream of consciousness narration is incredibly intimate as we see events unfold through Maureen’s eyes. With compassion, Walsh captures the despair Maureen endures as a young woman with very few options.
One of the most powerful scenes in the book is when Maureen wakes from giving birth and realizes her mother has already organized an adoption for her baby. The narrator tells us, ‘She was empty – but emptier than just not having the baby inside her, empty in a way she didn’t understand.”
Maureen feels defined by the fact that she wasn’t able to make her own decision about how her pregnancy should be handled. She attributes her choice to stay with Bo as the violence between them escalates to feeling inadequate because of her pregnancy and the adoption that was orchestrated behind her back. Despite being set more than half a century ago, Maureen’s story feels very timely as the alt-right fights to scale back access to safe abortion.
“In the late sixties and early seventies if you were pregnant in St. John’s, there were no choices available to you unless you were rich, which is what people are trying to impose on women in the western world now,” Walsh says. “There is a pressure to erode what women have fought for over the last hundred years.”
The sleuthing Maureen does after Bo’s death marks the beginning of her claiming control of her own destiny. Although the clues are expertly placed ,and reveals are both unexpected and satisfying, it’s watching Maureen transform over the course of the investigation that makes this story so compelling.