Sydney Avey has sensitively portrayed the remnants of a family still walking through the “valley of the shadow of death” in her debut novel, “The Sheep Walker’s Daughter”. Yet there is nothing morose about this saga of self-discovery. Avey sprinkles it liberally with wise and humorous insights.
The story begins with a mother’s death, a widowed daughter numbed by the haunting memory of her husband’s death, and a granddaughter’s smoldering anger at being excluded from those last precious moments with her “abuelita”.
We quickly learn that the Moraga family tree is shadowed in a web of secrets and partially buried under the debris of neglect and ignorance. Avey deftly moves us between the personas of Dolores and her daughter Valerie as they struggle to build and sort out their relationship. Like them, most women have struggled with not wanting to be like their mothers, only to find they are fast becoming clones, or alter egos. Father Mike’s voice gently intrudes early on, speaking from a higher wisdom than Dee has ever known, and guides her on a spiritual journey to find meaning and purpose for her new life.
Wallace Stegner, Valerie’s professor at Stanford, and himself, a Pulitzer-Prize winning author of over 30 novels, had inspired her to explore her family’s history: “You may not know who you are, or who your character is, but you know where you came from. Write about that, and you will discover who you are, who your character is”. Valerie began by asking questions of Leora, her grandmother, and secretly started her first novel while in Spain. As the family’s web of secrecy begins to unravel, it creates a unique alliance between mother and daughter.
Many of the great questions each new generation must ask are woven in Valerie’s thoughts as she pursues her own validation and identity. “What must be preserved? What has to die? Do old paths provide a useful surface, like the paths the sheep have walked for generations, or should the path be changed and be lost? What do we fight for? What do we yield to?”
And every family wavers between the tension of establishing roots to foster a child’s responsibility and the gift of independence allowing them to grow wings.
Avey has succeeded in painting a multi-layered family portrait just beginning to emerge from the shadows. We eagerly look forward to the discoveries and choices they will make in Book Two.