Bauer’s second novel (A Wild Ride Up the Cupboards, 2005) offers an introspective study of a woman as she embarks on a journey of self-discovery.
Narcissistic Carmen Garrett is newly widowed. Married to her brilliant husband, Jobe, for more than 20 years, she has been waiting for him to die so that she can begin to live her life. She and Jobe meet when he is a graduate student in England, where she travels after the death of her mother. After returning to the United States, he invites Carmen to visit his family in Baltimore, and Carmen remains there as a guest of the Garretts, who also pay for her last year of college when she can’t do so. Upon graduation—Jobe with his doctorate and Carmen with her bachelor’s degree—the two marry. Although Carmen never loves the socially and physically awkward mathematician, their marriage produces three children. At the time of Jobe’s death from leukemia, Luca, their Down Syndrome son, is 20 years old; highly intelligent Siena is 17 years old; and young Michael is 12. Carmen wants to help her children cope with the loss of their father, but she is relieved that she no longer has to live with the subterfuge of their marriage. She’s not only wealthy from Jobe’s life insurance, but she is free to continue her affair with Danny. But the diagnosis of her own life-threatening illness causes Carmen to closely examine the choices and the emotions that have shaped her marriage and her life. As she faces her own mortality, she must also face her past. At times dispassionate and self-absorbed and at other times emotional and selfless, Carmen follows a path of self-discovery that is often painful, poignant and undeniably real. Bauer crafts an insightful story that is uncomfortable and bleak, but well-written.
It’s a journey well worth taking.