Greece is the word for a trio of almost-septuagenarian women determined to enjoy an idyll free of family and romantic entanglements…or is it?
Ruth, Dania, and Bess, the triad at the center of Freed’s (The Servants’ Quarters, 2009, etc.) slyly delivered version of a novel of women’s self-actualization, retreat to a Greek isle for a yearlong experiment in communal living undisturbed by children, grandchildren, lovers, or others. Ruth, a South African expatriate and mystery novelist, narrates the trio’s saga, directly and via journal excerpts and magazine columns chronicling the sojourn. The column, optimistically entitled “Granny Au Go Go,” provides Ruth and her half sister—the indolent Bess—with an opportunity to “tell it like it is” for women of a certain age as well as a way to illuminate the differences between the truisms of later life and the stereotypes of grannyhood. Dania, a kibbutz psychologist given to malapropisms, balances out the threesome with an apparent self-absorption that masks a troubling reality. When snakes—in the form of family, friends, and lovers—invade the proverbial Eden created by the three, the carefully crafted equilibrium among the group is balanced and rebalanced and balanced again. Comic relief is provided by the (often painfully earnest) politically correct edits a faceless editor provides for Ruth’s columns, but macabre and antic episodes may distract the reader's attention from Freed's observations about women’s lives and second-wave feminism woven throughout the tale. Fraught relationships between mothers and daughters, grandmothers and grandchildren, and men and women are explored and detailed against the backdrop of usually perfect scenery, but it is the sometimes-madcap behavior of Freed’s characters that may be the takeaway for many readers.
Replete with references to Greek mythology, Freed’s modern retelling of a timeless tale of self-fulfillment wanders into surprising territory along the way.