Two women find joy as they endure the hardships of aging.
Ward’s (Girl Under Construction, 2013) bittersweet novel begins dramatically: The husband of Stel, an active senior, unexpectedly dies. Blindsided by grief, she wonders what she will do with “Act Three” of her life. Determined to not become a burden for her daughter, Stel sells her house and moves to Singing Pines, a residence for independent seniors. Her longtime friend Merci is also a widow. Despite declining health, Merci is desperately determined to live at home. Told through first-person letters the two friends write to each other, this breezy read is often lighthearted but sometimes deeply poignant. Faced with difficult choices, the women must learn to adapt to change. Once at Singing Pines, energetic Stel is disappointed by the many gray heads and walkers she sees. And instead of an exciting community, she’s dismayed to find intrusive rules—she has to push a red button every morning to let the staff know she’s OK. Meanwhile, Merci argues with her daughter, who wants her to move in with her. The characterization in Ward’s drama is strong, and Stel and Merci are likable, realistic women. Although the story is full of quips—Merci calls her breasts “the hanging baskets”—the protagonists are not stereotypical little old ladies. For example, Stel astutely observes after she begins tutoring children: “I might have gone for hours of counseling with psychiatrists and therapists to discover what was missing from my life, when all along it was connection with the circle of life.” The two women blow off steam about daughters, but there are sympathetic glimpses of the younger “sandwich” generation: Merci’s daughter is trying to raise a family while worrying about mom falling down at home alone. Offering a ray of hope (the two pals begin writing a guide for seniors), moments of sadness (Merci deals with grief), and plenty of laughs (Merci wears a lampshade to a library’s Storytime), Ward tenderly paints an honest portrait of the ups and downs of aging.
An endearing tale of coping with loss.