LEWISTON — Author Sarah Perry will be the featured presenter at Thursday’s Great Falls Forum at the Lewiston Public Library with a presentation titled, “After the Eclipse: Grief, the Law, and the Making of a Memoir.”

She will be joined by now-retired State Police Lt. Walter Grzyb, who investigated Crystal Perry’s 1994 murder in Bridgton, picking it up as a cold case in 1998.

Sarah Perry was 12 years old when her mother was stabbed and raped in their home. Her book, “After the Eclipse: A Mother’s Murder, a Daughter’s Search,” is a telling of the murder — all of which she heard from her bedroom — her remaining childhood, her immense loss, growing up not knowing who was responsible for her mother’s death, and then grappling with the 2006 arrest and resulting trial that ultimately resulted in the conviction of Michael Hutchinson.

Hutchinson is now serving life in prison.

The book, which has been a called a “fierce memoir,” also looks deeply at the choices Perry made as she grew up to become a woman who would make her mother proud.

Crystal Perry was a hardworking single mother, a handsewer in the Sebago shoe shop who was beloved by many in her hometown. It took local police and State Police detectives, working with Sarah Perry as the sole witness, to identify Hutchinson more than a decade after Crystal’s death.

Years after that conviction, in her search to understand the crime, Sarah Perry interviewed many people involved in the investigation, including lead Detective Grzyb.

The book, which took her six years to write, was published in 2017.

It begins by telling readers, “A violent act is an epicenter; it shakes everyone within reach and creates other stories, cracks open the earth and reveals buried secrets.”

The book was named a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice, a Poets & Writer’s Notable Nonfiction Debut, and a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick.

Award-winner author Sarah Perry and retired Maine State Police Lt. Walter Grzyb will be featured at Thursday’s Great Falls Forum for a discussion about the life of death of Crystal Perry, who was murdered in Bridgton in 1994. In 2017, her daughter, Sarah, published a memoir titled, “After the Eclipse: A Mother’s Murder, a Daughter’s Search,” which has received multiple literary awards. The event is scheduled to begin at noon at the Lewiston Public Library.

In a review, Laura Miller of Slate magazine called the book “Raw and perfect. I’ve never read a better depiction of how a sudden, violent event rips through a human being’s apprehension of reality. (It’s) an unfussy, richly textured remembrance of a town, a family, a particular place on the planet that its author knows all the way down to her bones — the strengths of a classic memoir. After the Eclipse (has) an eerie, heartbreaking power that it shares with the very best of true crime.”

Perry is the recipient of the 2018 Betty Berzon Emerging Writer Award and fellowships from the Edward F. Albee Foundation, VCCA, Playa and The Studios of Key West.

She holds a master’s degree in nonfiction from Columbia University, where she currently teaches, and is the 2019 McGee Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at Davidson College in North Carolina.

Her book was selected as the featured nonfiction book by bestselling novelist Tess Gerritsen for this year’s ReadME, a summer project of the Maine State Library and the Maine Humanities Council.

Nicole Rancourt, program officer for the MHC, said 62 Maine libraries participated in the project this year, sharing 250 copies of Perry’s book with their patrons.

In making her selection of Perry’s book, Gerritsen’s wrote: “On the night her mother was murdered, twelve-year-old Sarah Perry was asleep in the same house. Haunted by fractured memories of that night, and by the turbulent years that follow the murder, she tracks down the truth of what really happened. Ms. Perry’s memoir of her Maine childhood, ‘After the Eclipse: A Mother’s Murder, a Daughter’s Search,’ is both a gripping mystery and a heartbreaking love letter to the fiercely devoted mother she lost.”

The book sets up the title very early on, with Perry writing about the solar eclipse she saw at school two days before her mother’s murder: “At the time, the eclipse seemed a culmination of so many good things that were happening in my life. I didn’t know that one small moment of darkness foreshadowed a much greater one. One that would block the light entirely, and hover there for a very long time.”

The book has clear details of Perry’s experience enduring the sounds of her mother’s murder, seeing her body and then leaving the house to seek help, walking for a very long time to find someone who could call police. It details the years following her mother’s death, how Perry was placed with various family members, her struggle to learn who her mother was, and her ultimate decision to look into her mother’s death, including examining the physical evidence of the crime.

During the forum Thursday, Perry will read excerpts from her book and then she and Grzyb will discuss Crystal Perry’s life and death, as well as their process of revisiting both for the creation of the book.

Grzyb served in the Maine State Police from 1989 until 2018. He began his career as a patrol trooper assigned to the Bridgton/Fryeburg area of Troop B. He retired as the troop commander of Troop B overseeing field operations in Androscoggin, Cumberland and Oxford counties.

Grzyb spent much of his career in the Criminal Investigation Division (now called the Major Crimes Unit), investigating and supervising homicides, suspicious deaths, missing persons, sexual assault and child abuse. In 1998, he was assigned the 4-year-old unsolved homicide of Crystal Perry at her home in Bridgton.

He now serves as the director of campus safety at Fryeburg Academy.

The Great Falls Forum, which is hosted by the library, the Sun Journal and Bates College will begin at noon, and attendees are encouraged to bring a brown bag lunch. There is no charge to attend.

For more information, see: lplonline.org/events/great-falls-forum-with-sarah-perry/


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