Coming-of-age fiction for the older crowd, in which debut novelist Hicks explores the burdens of secrets and guilt.
Betty has outlived her husband, Charlie, but has now lived long enough to become a burden. A widow for almost five years, she’s drifted into a life of repetition: weekly bridge with her lady friends, occasional strained outings with her childless daughter Sharon and her nice husband, Vince, and a recurring sense of remorse over being an inconvenience. Sharon has her own struggles; she’s uncomfortable about preferring to spend time at work than with her mother: “Would a good daughter let her mother live alone?” Mother and daughter are always “at a loss to figure out where it went wrong.” So far, Betty has resisted Sharon’s suggestions that she downsize (“anything that talked about ‘quality of life’ was just covering for talk about ‘quality of death’ ”). Then she sees an assisted living center’s publicity photo, depicting a mother and daughter seated by a sunny window and engaged in congenial conversation; she decides to go live there, thinking that “she and Sharon could be like the women in the photo.” When the same models show up in a “See America” train ad, Betty decides again to follow them—and travels to Chicago. After a protest demonstration keeps Betty from her goal of visiting the Sears Tower, her act of kindness gets her arrested and jailed. This pleasant mother-daughter drama includes themes that will appeal to an older audience. Despite an opening that jumps back and forth in time and point of view, the overall story is clear and meanders along nicely. Betty steadily reawakens to life’s possibilities, while Sharon and Vince engagingly re-examine their commitment to each other. Along the way, readers will also be mildly curious about a small mystery subplot involving deceased husband Charlie’s secret safe deposit box.
A sensitive story of intergenerational stresses.