"... a book that started out like a Johnny Cash song..."– Kirkus Reviews
An exploration of developmental substages for adulthood and beyond.
Thomas, possibly unaware of criticisms of the egocentrism of the baby boomer generation, suggests that the dynamics that gave rise to the cultural shift of baby boomers have also engendered a unique imbalance as their late adulthood sets in. The author, a senior fellow at the AARP’s Life Reimagined Institute and a winner of the Heinz Award for the Human Condition, writes that this imbalance is a result of the self-inflicted mythology that the boomer generation created and embraced—a generation defined as youthful and preoccupied with youth. Rather than railing against the perceived order of the old and celebrating youth, Thomas writes, these boomers now often struggle with the rigidity of that identity. The fervent embrace of youth, coupled with conflict over the “structure, function, and meaning of adulthood,” was a useful iconoclasm when the embracers were young. Thomas suggests that this resulting view of growing old as a “personal failing” needs to be flipped to an embrace of “elderhood” as a time of expanding, not lessening, opportunities. “We’ve been told that old age offers us nothing that the adult does not already possess in abundance,” he writes, “but this is a lie.” As children, we’re allowed to explore our identities and try on different roles, realizing that we’re still a work in progress. As adults, we’re acculturated to winnow down those identities (“What do you want to be when you grow up?”), and adults who experience ambiguity around those identities are labeled as flighty, insecure and immature. Thomas explores possible paradigms that might enable us, as we transition through adulthood and beyond, to expand those ideas of identity.
A mostly nuanced look at the challenges of growing old gracefully for a generation that aches to see youth in the mirror.
Three dead artists plot a prison break.
Johnny Chambers is in prison for armed robbery—a crime he didn’t commit. Soon after he enters prison, Chambers meets fellow cons David Madejas and Vinny LePugh, a Cajun from Louisiana who says “ta” instead of “the” but whose speech is otherwise standard American English. Both men, he learns, have had near-death experiences, and that fact alone is enough to convince Chambers that something supernatural is afoot. “I began to check into the possibility of these men being reincarnated,” Chambers, the first-person narrator, says. “There were a few books in the library on reincarnation. One book talked about people who took on the ego and personality of someone from the past.” With those bizarre sentences, a book that started out like a Johnny Cash song—a realistic but fairly clichéd one—turns into a book in which the souls of Mozart (Madejas) and Van Gogh (LePugh) are now incarcerated in Huntsville, Texas. Approved by the prison psychologist, the reincarnation entitles the two men to art supplies, musical instruments, and the time and space to paint and compose, all courtesy of the warden. (One bit of proof that Madejas is the reincarnated Mozart is that, after his accident, he dreams of streets made of water—Venice. Not quite the same thing as Vienna.) Had the author gone whole hog and given his characters and his story over to the sheer ludicrousness of the premise—and if he’d had the chops and the humor to do so—this could have had the makings of a cult hit. Instead, it’s serious about its strange plot, including deadpan sentences like this one: “Dr. Robinson filed her report with the warden, agreeing that the two probably were reincarnations of Van Gogh and Mozart.” Dr. Robinson may believe that after asking couple of short questions, but readers won’t.
A wild idea, but thinly plotted and underdeveloped.