A new job at an independent-living facility causes a widowed retiree to reconsider his life in this touching debut novel.
A year and a half after his wife, Elaine, dies, 61-year-old former mail carrier John Davies, father to three grown children, is beginning to realize that a life of walking his golden Lab, Clementine, around his neighborhood in a small town in the Canadian plains isn't enough to carry him through the potentially long years ahead. On an impulse, he applies for a job at The Wheaton. Initially appalled by the vision of upcoming old age that the residents suggest to him, he gradually starts to get to know them as individual people and to relish his connection with them. The residents—an alcoholic former lawyer, a sweet former veterinarian, an ex–CEO loaded with complaints, and many others—are fully rounded characters with complicated pasts and equally complicated present lives. Running alongside their stories is that of John's bumpy attempt to form new relationships with his children, whose primary bonds were with their mother. Occasional melodramatic flashbacks to John's earlier married life lack the vitality, complexity, and humor of the present-day story, and the dialogue in these scenes is oddly stilted. The John of the past comes across as distinctly unlikable, particularly in comparison to the relatively saintly Elaine. Rather than trusting John's gradual evolution and reentry to the world of the living to provide a framework for the plot, Jackson sometimes leans too heavily on gimmicky twists such as mysteriously vanishing jewelry and a supposed Grim Reaper the residents keep seeing. But when she sticks to daily life at The Wheaton and John's slowly growing delight in his role there, she evokes a warm sense of community.
A sweet tribute to the possibility of recovery from grief.