The octogenarian heroine of Larson’s pointedly comic second novel (Slipstream, 2006) refuses to adjust meekly to life in an assisted-living facility.
At 82, Cora Sledge is grossly overweight, unable to walk more that a few steps and secretly addicted to pills. Deciding she can no longer take care of herself in the San Diego home where she lived for decades with her husband Abel (recently deceased), her three middle-aged children move her into assisted living. The kids are probably right, but Cora is fighting mad when she begins a journal to record her suffering at The Palisades. Though an obvious plot device, the journal works because Cora’s cantankerous voice is so strong and authentic as she describes her present life and remembers her past. Born in Missouri of tough working-class stock, she married Abel, who knew she was pregnant by another man. Although she grew to love her warm, decent husband, she learned to steel herself against the kind of heartbreak she went through with her lover. Cora has become a woman who keeps her distance even from her children. Nor does she suffer fools, among whom she includes the doddering residents of The Palisades, described with withering hilarity. The one friend she makes is gay health technician Marcos, who brings her forbidden snacks and cigarettes. Cigarettes also bring her into contact with fellow resident Vitus Kovis, an Eastern European charmer. Soon Cora is losing weight and weaning herself from the pills, driven by her girlish passion for Vitus, who admits to a checkered past. When The Palisades is struck by a string of thefts, Cora’s prize crystal, a gift from her father, goes missing, and her ungrounded suspicion of Marcos almost destroys their friendship. Meanwhile Cora’s daughter meets Vitus, now Cora’s fiancé, and has her own suspicions, as do readers. Fortunately, suspense is less the point here than Cora’s hard-won self-reclamation.
Heartwarming and funny with nary a slip into sentimentality.