Shelly Edwards Jorgensen is picked up from basketball practice by her friend, Carolyn, and her mother, who break the news that her house is on fire. She watches as her mother's body is removed from the ashes of what was a home a few hours ago. She knows her father killed her. Now, she blames herself for the murder of her mom, because she has left her alone, having known that her father was a monster since she was just four. She tells the story, switching between flashbacks and the unfolding drama that follows her mother's death, allowing readers powerful glimpses into domestic violence perpetrated by her father while exploring family bonds and the dynamics that have shaped her life over the ages. Can she beat her grief and the overpowering sense of guilt and eventually experience peace?
This memoir of loss is wonderfully crafted and Edwards Jorgensen's prose is poetic; it has a strong spell and the author has the unique gift of weaving details into the writing while unveiling the different climates of her soul. Her journey through grief to finding the love of her life is cleverly documented. Some passages are poignant and the pathos in the writing engulfs the reader from the very first page. It is hard for readers to not feel the young Shelly who stays awake at night, just “listening,” overpowered by the understanding that there is no escape from abuse.
The setting is captured in vivid details and while readers have a strong sense of time and place in the writing, they are compelled to follow the lonely path that Shelly walks. Here is a moment she succinctly captures the depth of her sorrow and loneliness: “Chilly gusts traversed the streets, depositing leaves deep in corners. Inside the O'Malley funeral home in Novi, Dad headed to the director's office. Watching the leaves swirling in an eddy just outside, Lisa remained by a window in the foyer between potted mums bright in gloom. I wandered about alone.”
Beautiful Ashes: A True Story of Murder, Betrayal, and One Woman's Search for Peace by Shelly Edwards Jorgensen intelligently examines the author's grief and loss after the murder of her mother. It is a memoir that is filled with hope, offering a journey that culminates in blessings in the author's life — a beautiful relationship with a grandpa, a strong connection with the love of her life, and a family she can shelter from pain. It reads like well-crafted fiction, a deeply moving story with a huge potential to instruct readers while offering entertainment. You can't put this book down and as you read from page to page, you will gain insights into an evil that eats into many families — domestic violence and abuse.