Assisted living residents and a hospice worker confront the inevitable with grit and humor.
A potentially clichéd unifying device, the claustrophobic world of Pine Haven Retirement Facility (located next to a cemetery no less), is here put to innovative use. Passing the narrative baton are Pine Haven’s residents and staff, friends and spouses, all confined, willingly or not, to McCorkle’s familiar turf, Fulton, N.C. Joanna, a hospice worker rescued from suicide by a dog, finds fulfillment easing the passage of the dying. Abby, who inhabits the house next to Pine Haven, is an outcast preteen with a social-climbing mother, Kendra, and a feckless, unreliable father, Ben (a magician and Joanna’s childhood friend). Abby, a daily visitor to Pine Haven, bereft after the disappearance of her dog, Dollbaby, finds a mentor in 85-year-old Sadie, a former third-grade teacher. Sadie discovers a kindred spirit in another teacher, Toby, Pine Haven’s youngest retiree, who bemoans the sorry state of children’s literature today. C.J., a pierced and tattooed single mom who does hair and nails at Pine Haven, has a much older married lover who is also the father of her son, Kurt. Rachel, a widowed Jewish lawyer from Boston, comes to Pine Haven to take up residence near her deceased paramour, Joe, who is buried, along with his wife, in the adjoining cemetery. Stanley, one of Fulton’s most prominent citizens, is sliding into dementia, cajoling, goading and insulting Pine Haven’s female majority, and reveling in bizarre obsessions: WWF stars and ’60s-era lounge lizard LPs. But could his apparent Alzheimer's be a bid for independence instead of dependency? Seemingly unrelated and insignificant clues sowed throughout raise other questions as these lives coalesce. For example, is Dollbaby really missing? Who’s leaving notes in a cemetery vase? Are both Kendra and C.J. placing their hopes in the same married man? Any residual predictability is dispelled by the jaw-dropping ending.
McCorkle’s masterful microcosm invokes profound sadness, harsh insight and guffaws, often on the same page.