The slow emotional thaw of a 53-year-old widow who manages to reorder her life post-husband, thanks to a troubled granddaughter and an embittered AIDS patient.
Center stage in Manfredi’s first novel (stories: Where Love Leaves Us, 1994) is Boston medical technician Anna, once a happily married woman whose life revolved for years around her husband Hugh and their daughter Poppy. But now, with Hugh several years dead of cancer and Poppy living in Alaska, Anna has to build a new world for herself. So she moves to a new house and takes up some new activities, agreeing to help coordinate a support group for AIDS patients. Then, after 12 years’ estrangement, Anna gets a phone call from Poppy asking if she can come to visit with her husband Marvin and their daughter Flynn. Anna is a bit nervous about the reunion with her daughter, but it turns out to be a false alarm: Poppy never shows. But Marvin does, bringing Flynn in tow and explaining that he and Poppy have broken up. So Anna takes them in and tries to provide a stable home for Flynn, a charming and eccentric ten-year-old who talks to spirits, has perfect pitch, and believes that India is a planet. Anna makes the mistake of bringing Marvin along to her support group, where he meets and begins an affair with her young assistant Christine. The group comes to play an increasingly large role in Anna’s domestic life after she connects with a patient named Jack. Caustic and deeply angry, Jack softens with time and eventually becomes Anna’s close friend. Together, this oddball collection of emotional cripples manages to work their way through the thickets of everyday life with good humor and a decent hope of survival.
Longer and rather more drawn out than it needs to be, but a good account of friendship and loss, freshly narrated with a minimum of stereotypes and some sharply drawn characters.