Independently Published (2020)
Reviewed by Tim Schueler for Reader Views (06/2021)
“Weeper” chronicles the relationship between a birth mother and the son she is forced to give up; we witness the reverberations of this decision over the son’s lifetime through the echoes of family pattern. The novel is set in the years building up to the Civil War and the war itself. It first centers on the mother, Charlotte, a “weeper” who is paid to publicly grieve during funerals. Through a romantic indiscretion, Charlotte’s son, Augustus, is born. Conventionality necessitates that Augustus is placed into another family as a “twin” to another infant. The reader gets a front-row seat to witness Augustus’s creation, his childhood with his assumed family, his maturation, and the discovery of his true parenthood. Taboos of the nineteenth century are broken until one sin, still a taboo today, tests Charlotte’s resolve to the breaking point.
Death in the nineteenth century was a common, onerous fact of life. End of life rituals were usually handled by families themselves with the aid of weepers and warners. Warners, precursors to today’s funeral directors, visited homes to inform locals of a death; warners also transported the body from the home to the graveyard via horse-drawn hearse. Mr. Morgan has obviously done his research into this time period’s customs and, in particular, its burial practices. Believable description fills the novel; the presentation of day-to-day life necessities is effective. Effort was put into creating convincing dialogue seemingly consistent with America’s 19th century Mid-Atlantic states.
Though the historical detail is impressive—particularly the run up to, and participation in, the war between the states—the novel is mostly a romantic adventure (Charlotte) and a coming of age story (Augustus), with the adventures of several secondary characters thrown in, such as Charlotte’s protective slave, Micah, and Augustus’s “twin” brother, Jefferson. The subplots are interesting; some characters are more complex—read: conflicted—than others, but all are easy to root for or against.
Though a historical romantic novel, it is written through a keen twenty-first century lens: issues such as gender identity, disability, autism, race, sexual mores, servitude, and most of all, family dynamic, are touched on—sometimes subtly, sometimes forthrightly.
Most outcomes stem directly from the decisions of the characters themselves, but other outcomes are random, either based on Murphy’s Law or in the context of historic patterns known to the reader (such as what a deathtrap the Andersonville Prison-of-war camp was). The last sentence provides a “short, sharp shock” and is very clever. However, a minor criticism of the ending: this reviewer was not thrilled with the implied need for a sequel. I don’t mind sequels or series, but just like to know at the time of reading that the story is likely to continue in another book. Despite this minor hitch, “Weeper” is an enjoyable read. It is a well-written, thought-out first novel from a writer with more to share.