Sometimes a read is like a vacation, does similar things for one’s self, clearing the head and restoring the soul, and this was like that. I love this story, and I love happening upon a story that turns out to be just what I need, like a vacation, the best kind. The kind that takes you somewhere you’re longing to go, be it brand new or familiar, and exceeds expectations.
This means you’re going to be sad when it’s over and inevitably disappointed upon returning to the routine, but given some time, you find that the routine, like yourself, is better for the experience. You see things in refreshed ways, which can mean appreciating your life even more despite recognizing that some things need to change, or admitting that you are not, after all, where you’re supposed to be.
The heart of this story is the long-time friendship of three women negotiating both of the above-mentioned perspectives, and it is a coming of age story. “One day you wake up and you’re 60 years old and you don’t know how the hell that happened. And you might be bitter about it, or you might decide to fill up all the spaces you have left.”
The process of filling the spaces leads the friends, and the reader, through fascinating digressions and diversions to do with heritage, art, philosophy, music, love and death. It’s part character study, part family saga, part fairy tale, styled in a kind of magical realism that slights neither the magic nor the realities and keeps a sense of humor. “Trish had a word she used – chantepleure. Sing and cry simultaneously. Seems to suit these golden years.”
Trish has cancer, and Margo’s marriage is ending, and Claire is turning her business over to the young women who will soon replace her. The transitions and dilemmas of aging are as complex as those of youth, and I, like the three friends, happen to be at an age to appreciate them whether I want to or not. I also appreciate that this journey doesn’t follow predictable pop culture, or chick lit, paths, though this is an American upper-educated-middle-class with its shoes and lunches and martinis.
Her sister called martinis for Margo “an olive delivery system” and Margo had to agree. What dredge remained after the purpose was gone must be abandoned without thought or remorse. And isn’t that how it should be? No. No “should.” Must. From Old English moste, to be allowed to, have to. To be presumably certain to. Not should. A listless damaged word grown in the societal predilection to control. As useless as the English literature undergraduate degree Margo kept stapled to her wall in the home office, with its obligatory cheap document frame, as useless when she bought the frame in 1979 as the degree was now. . . What remains after purpose is gone should be abandoned. . . Then what?
The story is all about “then what,” when you’ve reached the point of knowing that time and potential are limited, when “choices become critical. What tools do you reach for? A bottle? A Bible? A brick?”
Questions I’ve been asking myself lately. I highly recommend this story for any woman likewise speculating and coming of age and hoping to make the most of the things that really matter.