The club of the title offers structure for Kalpakian (Educating Waverly, 2002, etc.) as she delves—and delves—into grief and loss.
It evolves out of a class taught at the university extension center (in Portland, Oregon) by a woman named Penny Taylor, who offers such obliquely profound comments on her students’ work that six of them decide to continue meeting with her as a club when the semester ends. Selfless Nell, a nurse at a women’s clinic, hopes that memoir writing will help her friend Caryn, a doctor at the clinic, recover from the death of her children and estranged husband in a plane crash two years earlier. Francine, the socially gracious widow of a professor, intends her memoir to glorify her husband. Jill, a young Korean adopted as an infant by a loving American woman, still mourns the loss of Korean parents she never knew, while Rusty, a secretary to the Portland Symphony, writes about the baby she gave up for adoption when she was 16, before she married and bore three more children. The elderly Sarah Jane, who has already published a memoir about her experience as a teacher, now writes about her childhood—the sprightly memoir extract she writes has no clear connection to the rest of the novel. Gradually, the women’s lives intertwine. Francine, after realizing that her husband led a secret life, sells her house and goes into partnership with Jill and Jill’s loving chef boyfriend to begin a restaurant together. Rusty’s youngest daughter comes to Caryn and Nell’s clinic for Lamaze classes and happens to be present when a rabid antiabortion zealot goes on a shooting rampage that leaves Caryn dead and Nell wounded. Nell recovers at Sarah Jane’s house and marries the lawyer who had been involved with Caryn before her death. With a curve ball into spirituality, Penny is revealed as a heavenly emissary who helps Caryn rejoin her children.
So much uplift can become trying.