Confronting Closure

Little Crosses

A review of Little Crosses by Sabrina Reeves

Published on July 4, 2024

Little Crosses reflects on what makes families unique – and where we have followed the same paths as many before us. Cassie’s mother Nina is a charismatic and creative woman who is no longer able to care for herself. As her memory loss and confusion, resulting from alcoholic dementia, worsen, her adult children must place her in professional care. We follow Cassie and Nina across several decades and locations, including Albuquerque, Montreal, and New York. The result is a moving story of family, care, and mothers and daughters; readers who have given care to ill parents will find their experiences mirrored in this novel.

Little Crosses
Sabrina Reeves

House of Anansi Press
$23.99
paper
344pp
9781487011840

We meet Cassie and her brothers at a shared painful moment of forcing their mother into medical care. Nina’s doctor tasks Cassie with narrativizing her mother’s life and illness: “Put what you think are the relevant names and events into a story. Have fun with it.” Cassie begins with her earliest memories and traces Nina’s influence on her life: her and her brothers’ childhood, their absent father, their subsequent father figures, careers, children, marriages, and moves. Cassie’s dreams, lyrical and abstract and interspersed throughout the novel during her most vulnerable moments, find deeper insight into Nina’s behaviour. In the present day, Cassie confronts closure and grief about her mother while raising her own daughters.

Sabrina Reeves has woven a tapestry of characters whose nuances and conflicts are all too real. As Nina’s vivacity turns to volatility and her children must revoke her autonomy to protect her, Reeves’ skillful writing sticks the landing of the naturally emotional premise. The characters’ conflicts could have easily been overdone, but Reeves navigates the act of grieving a loved one who is still alive with a deft touch. Nina’s lucid moments are haunting, especially as Cassie puts her own motherhood in perspective. Reeves’ narrative flows smoothly through Cassie’s memories, and her epiphanies resonate with relatable allegories such as: “Our family is like a teacup that has broken and been glued back together; tiny pieces are missing, the cracks are distracting, and it no longer holds tea. But for some reason, we’ve put it back on the shelf just the same.” 

At 344 pages, however, Little Crosses is longer than it needs to be. Some of Reeves’ striking prose loses its impact in the length of scenes that could have packed a bigger punch in brevity. At the three-quarters mark, Cassie’s reflections on Nina began to feel overly cyclical, and I was ready to return to the present. 

Little Crosses may have had more impact as a shorter novel, but several scenes still stand out, including the titular line. Cassie reflects on the “little crosses,” monuments that pepper the southwest landscape, with the broadly applicable yet incisive words: “Death is everywhere, all the time, irreverently. It’s there even when no one has died.” Reeves’ characters and their words will stick with me for a long time. The vulnerable truths of family ties and hard decisions are difficult to swallow, but they appear effortless on the page. In much the same way that Cassie recognizes her strengths and weaknesses in Nina, most readers will encounter a similar type of reflection and catharsis in Cassie, especially daughters who have been caregivers to their mothers. Reeves accomplishes the painful task of summarizing a loved one’s life with magnificent details and delicate insights.mRb

Zoe Shaw is a writer and editor based in Montreal. She is the Managing Editor at carte blanche literary magazine.

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