Deconstructing Mourning Through Memory: A Review of Lisa Solod’s “Shivah”

by Nia Dickens

What does it mean to grieve a loved one for too long—and to have no choice in the matter? In her debut novel, Lisa Solod explores the terrains of grief through seven parts. While the structure borrows from the seven-day Jewish mourning practice, Solod’s prose reminds the reader that each day carries a lifetime’s worth of memories, contradictions, and precarious emotional attachments. To accept death in the face of little familial reconciliation requires demanding malleability from the processes by which we use to mourn the ones lost.

Solod’s novel begins with Leah witnessing the death of her mother, a woman who’d used alcoholism as a means to cope with her dementia and later Alzheimer’s. Leah’s not alone in navigating her mother’s demise. Her two sisters, aunt, and young daughter also feature prominently throughout the novel as these women reckon with what they once knew to be true of the maternal head of the family. Solod’s writing demands that the reader take their time with this family. In beginning with death, Shivah works to peel back the complexities behind not only the women of this family, but the emotional drainage that one experiences when forced to grieve a loved one while they’re yet still alive—even as the concept of what it means to be a “loved one” gets continually challenged in this family.

It’s no small thing that Shivah’s subtitle is “a novel from memory.” Memory plays an integral role as Leah deconstructs the memories of her mother—featured then as a vibrant, independent, bipolar, and emotionally abusive woman—while attempting to coexists with the fragmented parts left behind by Alzheimer’s. Memory of course is often less about the order in which events get remembered or even which ones linger. It’s about the gaping wounds and euphoric highs left in our bodies.

By mixing memory with grief, Solod deviates from any linear structure of storytelling or one predicated by an overdependence of plot. Shivah is about emotional resonance and Solod’s novel barrels towards its moments of emotional fracturing. Sometimes it’s between Leah and her siblings as they grapple with what’s owed to their mother during her slow demise, Leah and father, whose struggled to support his wife’s navigation of mental illness and his daughters, and of course Leah and her mother. By the end, we’re rewarded with a quiet moment of resolution, along with the reminder that acceptance is not necessarily something that can be found at the “end.”

 


 

Nia Dickens is a fiction writer, whose work centers on Southern Black coming-of-age narratives. She's a former fellow of Richard Hugo House, alum of Hurston/Wright and VONA Voices workshops, and recipient of MVICW's 2020 Voices of Color Fellowship.​Dickens currently serves as a teaching artist for Write253, a Tacoma-based nonprofit for youth writers. In Fall 2020, she began an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Miami. Her work can be found in Tahoma Literary Review and Wraparound South.​The recording of her latest flash piece "The prayer Sally Hemings's mother teaches about boys named Thomas" can be found on Soundcloud.