In Wagman’s latest (The Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets, 2012, etc.), a cancer diagnosis and faltering marriage cause a middle-aged woman to contact the lover she hasn’t seen in years.
Fiona, who works as an art educator at the Getty Villa in LA, learns she has breast cancer in the fall of 2009. Instead of sharing the diagnosis with her husband, Harry, a bitter out-of-work journalist, or her remarkably innocent college-student son, Fiona fixates on memories of Luc, her lover when she was 19 and trying to be a dancer in New York City. A gifted dancer, Luc was handsome, charismatic, and addicted to drugs and sexual dalliances. The last time Fiona saw him, 22 years earlier, he was strung out on heroin, but according to Google, he’s become a psychologist in Orlando. After a brief email exchange, they agree to meet for a weekend in Newport, where they began a terrible sailboat trip bound for Bermuda almost exactly 30 years earlier. As 50-year-old Fiona struggles, in a first-person narrative, with her guilt about Harry—she’s told him she’s attending a conference—and her excitement at seeing Luc again, 19-year-old Fiona’s experience at sea spins out in the third person. The boat’s owner, Nathan, a doctor, hired Luc and Fiona, along with a former patient and a supposedly experienced Dutch sailor. After they embarked, despite storm warnings that grew into an actual hurricane, it quickly became apparent that Nathan had trapped them in a deranged psychological experiment. For the last three decades, Fiona has been weighted down by guilt over her behavior on the boat as well as regret at leaving Luc—expect a lot of navel-gazing. Now, faced with still-handsome middle-aged Luc and his version of events, she must confront who she really was then and is now.
Although Wagman follows the contours of conventional midlife-crisis fiction with a too-easy ending, thoughtful references to Greek myth and musings on the nature of survival give the tale a darker, deeper hue.