Cover image for A witness to life
A witness to life
Green, Terence M.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Forge, 1999.
Physical Description:
240 pages ; 20 cm
General Note:
"A Tom Doherty Associates Book"--T.p.
Format :


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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In the acclaimed Shadow of Ashland, Terence M. Green introduced us to the poignant beauty and rich history of his own family. Publishers Weekly called Shadow of Ashland "wonderfully imagined and poetically told....With Leo's narration as evocative as the pages of a newly discovered family album, this proves a remarkably affecting literary work that the publisher rightly compares to Jack Finney's Time and Again." Now in A Witness to Life, with his spare but powerful style, Green examines the meaning of life, family, death--the connections that bind us all. The story begins at the moment of Martin Radley's death. His soul, free to drift back over his life, searches for meaning in a welter of change and occasional tragedy. He bears silent witness to his defining moments and the enigmatic patterns of his life. As Martin grows in a young man in Canada, he meets Maggie Curtis. Soon they are married, have a daughter and son, and are enjoying life. But Maggie dies suddenly, leaving Martin ill-equipped to be the single parent of two teenagers. He does a bad enough job that he loses their respect and the warmth of their affection that he desperately desires. Lost in a muddle, he falls passionately in love with Gertrude McNulty, twenty years younger. He marries her and they have a child. A new wife, a new daughter, new pieces for the puzzle, but as he tries to pull together a new life, his old one slips away. His son, Jack, leaves for the promise of work in the U.S. and disappears. His older daughter marries, withdrawing into her new family, and in a few years Gertrude dies, and Martin once again is left alone to raise a child. Martin is a good man who has failed at something important to him, and now all his love and attention are devoted to his young daughter, for decades. When death finally takes him, Martin is still looking for answers. Now, he has come full circle and has found only a few answers but, perhaps, redemption.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Green based this profoundly moving story of one man's life and afterlife on that of his Irish Catholic grandfather, and in doing so has paid him a great tribute. The tale begins with Martin Radey witnessing his first daughter's death from beyond the grave, then cycles back to Radey's own demise, which is followed by a postmortem journey through time and space to the small Canadian town of Elora, where he lived peacefully until age eight. From Elora, Radey progresses to Toronto, where he relives the stages of his life: the excitement of sex, the satisfaction of love, the melancholy of loneliness, the desperation of unemployment, and the anguish of loved ones' deaths. Green's novel is well paced and beautifully written, and Martin is so real that readers may wonder whether their own stern and stoic grandfather knew him. Green makes Martin's emotions so vivid they become his readers' emotions, and readers will feel that their spirit has, like Radey's, found something precious they didn't even know they were looking for. --Deborah Rysso

Publisher's Weekly Review

Toronto in the first half of the century is feelingly evoked in Green's understated prequel to his well-received Shadow of Ashland, a novel based on his family history. A minor character in the previous book, the protagonist and narrator here (inspired by the author's grandfather) is Martin John Radey, an Irish-Catholic clerk who has been dead for 34 years. In spirit form, Martin attends the deathbed of his daughter, Margaret, in 1984, and moves back in heartfelt memory to recall the meager fortunes of his own life. Martin spends his adolescence exploring Toronto's bars with his friend Jock, spending money on booze, cigars and girls. Together they witness the 1904 conflagration that ravages Toronto's downtown. Then Martin meets Maggie Curtis, who is older and more worldly than his previous girlfriends; she reads Dreiser and supports women's suffrage. Their marriage produces two children and a silent dissatisfaction in Maggie. When she dies early on, Martin is a disastrous caretaker for their children, Margaret and Jack, who grow up mostly on their own. Here the novel goes soft‘Martin's neglect is presented as excusable befuddlement, but the reader will surely ask whether Martin's responsibility can so easily be dismissed. After Martin remarries, to a woman who dislikes his son, Jack heads for the U.S. to find work and disappears from his family's eyes. After WWII, Martin enters the Gethsemeni Trappist monastery as an offering to Jack's disappearance, and meets Thomas Merton. Green's prose is sure and smooth, and the story is poignant. In the end, however, the "witness to life" is a solitary, sorrowful, haunted man who merely folded under the pressure of fatherhood and dies as he lives, with regrets. Agent, Shawna McCarthy. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved