Over the course of her last days, widowed Esther Lustig, 85 years old and determined to avoid being placed in Cedar Shores (aka Bingoville), reflects upon her life.
A photograph from the past sparks this tale. Snapped in 1944, two weeks before Esther’s date died in the war, the picture shows Esther with her best friends, who had spontaneously jumped on stage, mugging for the camera as an imaginative girl band, the Starrlites. Now Esther wants to find her friend Sonia. As Esther’s narrative toggles back and forth between her past and her present, she worries whether she has made any lasting impression upon the world. Born to parents raised in a Polish shtetl, Esther learned modesty and frugality, neither of which appealed to her haughty mother-in-law, Toots Lustig, who chided her rustic cooking skills. Her husband, Marty, ate like a horse but strayed from his marital vows. Esther recalls her attraction to Marty but also her frustration with his domineering manner. Orbiting around Esther are her family, particularly Ceely, who is mysteriously angry with Esther and eager to shuffle her into a nursing home; her friends, several of whom have died or sunk into dementia; and the outside world, filled with rude and well-meaning people, all of whom treat Esther as an insignificant old woman. An awkward phone call to Sonia’s husband, a showdown with a rude customer at the market, a barely expressed quarrel with Ceely—these scenes, like a collection of photographs, accrue and build toward Esther’s acceptance of her past, which leaves her ready to slip into the next world.
Karmel's debut novel is a quiet contemplation of a woman’s final days.