Moments of Joy


a novel by Cecelia Frey

Print: 978-1-77133-197-5 – $22.95
ePUB: 978-1-77133-198-2 – $9.99
PDF: 978-1-77133-200-2 – $9.99

304 Pages
May 25, 2015

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Manfred Weiszl lies dying of cancer in an upper room of a grand old Toronto house. His last wish is to see his son, Rupert, from whom he has been estranged for sixteen years, and much of the action derives from attempts to get Rupert’s cooperation. Manfred’s sister Pauline, the housekeeper Marie (and Marie’s boyfriend Steve), as well as Manfred’s dead wife, Gertrude are central to Manfred’s life and each have their role to play in the unfolding drama of a family in crisis dealing with issues of death, marriage breakup, gender identity, and generally just trying to find ways to live. The novel explores how these characters interact with each other and play off each other, and how an intervening fate operates in their lives as they discover that through (or in spite of ) the incredible antics of mankind, life can be salvaged, can be joyful and magical. Human angels are a very big part of this book, and eventually come to the rescue of this dysfunctional family coming to terms with the capricious workings of fate and the human heart.

“I was hooked from the first sentence and couldn’t put this book down. Once again Frey has established a pitch perfect familial concert of insightful humor, deep caring, alternated with ambiguous frustration, anger as well as misunderstanding or outright lack of concern — all the emotions that connect families and their foibles in a deeply touching and nuanced style. As with all of Frey’s writing, every syllable is selected to enforce that dynamic that characterizes families and the way they relate to each other and the outside world. Cecilia Frey is to Canadian literature what John Updike represents to American literature, a voice that harkens clearly to the multi-generational and multi-media interfaces of contemporary families.  Moments of Joy is a book to be read and reread.”

—Elona Malterre, author of The Last Wolf of Ireland

“Cecilia Frey’s new novel Moments of Joy is about Love and Death and Sex and Life. In this multi-generational family saga, Frey gets inside the tortured or inspired (or both!) relationships between father and son, husband and wife, brother and sister. Complex dynamics are described in intricate detail, bolstering a plot that keeps us turning pages as family secrets are revealed one after another. Frey’s explorations of Manfred’s dementia and physical decline draw us in with their familiarity—mirroring what so many of us are going through as we care for aging parents. It all adds up to forgiveness, for others and for oneself.”

—Ursula Pflug, author of Motion Sickness and The Alphabet Stones



Cecelia Frey was born in northern Alberta, grew up in Edmonton and now lives in Calgary. She is the author of thirteen books of fiction and poetry as well as works of non-fiction and award-winning plays. Her reviews, essays and articles have appeared in publications as varied as The Globe and Mail and Canadian Literature as well as being broadcast on cbc radio and performed on the Women’s Television Network. Her last novel, The Long White Sickness, was published by Inanna Publications in 2012. Her 2009 novel, A Raw Mix of Carelessness and Longing, was shortlisted for the Writers Guild of Alberta Fiction Award.

New! Lisa de Nikolits interviews Cecelia Frey for the All Lit Up Blog here

     “Sex?” Pauline’s face flickered blue, green, yellowish orange with the changing scenes on the television screen. She leaned closer to the bed. She was not sure that she had heard him correctly. “Sex?” she repeated. The word had found him. It had found him as he lay defenseless on his deathbed. Words did not abide by rules of social decorum. They entered uninvited when there was no guard at the gate. They came too late, when the party was over. Manfred’s mind meandered on. Since you become the words that set up house in you, you should be careful what you let in. He did not want to let in ‘sex’. Sex was the big joke on mankind. It took hold of you, controlled you, forced you into ridiculous and undignified situations, made you act in a ridiculous manner. Some men became despondent when it was done with them. He had been bloody glad of it.

But Paulie was insisting. He knew it was Paulie. He’d know that voice anywhere – inflected, dramatic, emphatic. “Did you say sex?”

Other words directed and controlled you, too, drove you crazy unless you did something about them. But with some words that was good. You could accomplish something with them. ‘Work’ was like that. Of course, the word itself was impartial. All words were. All words were precise, tidy entities. He’d been lucky to discover early in childhood the joy of words.

Beside him, Pauline waited for a sign that her words had got through her brother’s drug-induced mental fog. His eyes were closed so she was able to stare at his face, trying to find a clue that might tell her where his mind was traveling. The grey skin hung in blotchy folds from bones that had become prominent. The skull was visible through lank strands of greyish white hair. Either side his nose, which appeared progressively larger with each of her visits, were bruised pits from his eyeglasses, abandoned now on his night table alongside the photo of Rupert and the pile of books that had to be there. Without them, he would be lost, a soul wandering a desert waste of bedlam and babel. She could see that he was collapsing into himself. He was being consumed by the mound on his abdomen which, when she had first come into the room, had caused her to gasp and avert her eyes. He, too, had turned his eyes away. She felt remorse. Poor Manny, that he should feel shame, with her of all people. But he had never acknowledged the personal or the physical. Public display of such was forbidden.

1 review for Moments of Joy

  1. inannaadmin

    Moments of Joy
    by Cecelia Frey

    reviewed by Annie Wesko
    FreeFall Magazine – Volume XXVI Number 1 – Winter 2016

    “Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way according to Tolstoy.” (99)

    The family in Cecelia Frey’s novel represents characters with their peculiar dysfunction. Central is Manfred Weiszl, aged patriarch dying of cancer in the top floor of a splendid old house in Toronto. At the circumference are sister Pauline and her retinue. At the lower level is the resident housekeeper Marie Delaney,”a grand example of womanhood” (68) frequently ravished by the lusty Steve Nagy. Not present, but playing significant roles are Manfred’s late wife Gertrude; Manfred’s estranged son Rupert; and brother Eric, deceased.

    “[T]he house so full of people. Why, then, did he miss so dreadfully the ones who were not there?” (118)

    With humour and compassion Frey explores this multigenerational family and how its members relate to one another and to the outside world relating to impending death, failures, marriage breakdown, sex and longing, gender identity. The reader witnesses the various family members’ penetrating pain and frustration, anger and apathy; but also vivid memories of intense gladness, rapture, exultation, and mirth. Every character is capable of substantial moments of joy.

    Notably, only Steve experiences joy in the present, often with Marie when she isn’t resisting his considerable charms. Otherwise Marie rejoices in her station in the household. Frey has endowed Steve Nagy with the position of peacekeeper and enlightening rod. She establishes opportunity for him to circumvent the middle floor to infiltrate Manfred’s private bedroom where he offers his strength, comfort and compassion, part of which includes his undertaking to restore Rupert into the family dynamic.

    I was overwhelmed by the skillful machinations that Frey utilized to enable Steve, a veritable outsider, to neutralize the anger and burdens of this disparate family; then to have him seize and ensure his own happiness.

    Cecelia Frey lives and works in Calgary. She is a three-time recipient of the Writers Guild Of Alberta Short Fiction Award and the author of five novels, three books of short fiction, and five collections of poetry.


    Moments of Joy by Cecelia Frey

    reviewed by The Miramichi Reader – January 17, 2016

    In a recent review, I lamented the fact that the novella in question should have been a novel in order that the story and characters could be more fully formed. With Moments of Joy (Inanna, 2015) Cecelia Frey has created an entire novel from what could easily have been a shorter book. It was a great read and I found the story thoroughly engrossing from start to finish.


    Manfred Weiszl, a former professor and owner of a Toronto publishing house lies dying of cancer in an upstairs bedroom in the family home in Toronto. Unknown to him, his dying is the catalyst for a series of family issues to come to the fore, including an estranged son, a brother’s suicide as well as his own misgivings about his life and how he has treated (or mistreated) others.

    Moments of Joy is divided into four parts, each one fully developing not only the back story of Manfred’s life, but also of the prime characters in the present who are all affected by his dying. Foremost among them is his sister Pauline, with whom he has, and always had, a close relationship, much to the consternation of other family such as Manfred’s wife Gertrude and their son Rupert. Rupert himself had left home some thirteen years previously after the death of his alcoholic mother, accusing his father of ‘murdering’ her. Then there are the grandchildren, one whose husband has left her for a man, another who is dealing with her own sexual identity. Oh, and don’t forget the ‘outsiders’ like Marie, the longsuffering resident housekeeper and her boyfriend Steve who will play an integral role in reconciling the family in unexpected ways. At some point, I thought that this book was like a modern, lesser version of Downton Abbey, and like that series, is a well-told story on all fronts.

    A Most Intriguing Story

    There are several intriguing parts to this book. One is how Ms. Frey scripts the thoughts of a slowly dying man laying helpless on his deathbed. Calmed by morphine, Manfred’s words are at times lucid and at other times unintelligible to the listener. But his thoughts are semi-coherent as he sorts them out in his head and reflects back on his life, although at times his drug-induced dreams interfere, further confusing him. Unbeknownst to Manfred, several dramas are playing out right within his own home as the family deals with his impending death as well as their own inter-relationships past and present.

    What I Liked

    Moments of Joy was a relish to read. I especially took pleasure in the way Ms. Frey played out Manfred’s thoughts as he lay helpless and dying in his bed. Two other fascinating parts of the book was Steve’s eerie first encounter with Rupert’s wife Elizabeth, and Rupert’s lone whiskey-fueled musings in a bar which leads to a visit to his father’s house, his first in thirteen years.

    If you are searching for a good read that deals with some of life’s big questions, and does it gracefully so, then Moments of Joy is well worth reading.

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