Family members learn more about themselves and each other on a global journey in Reed’s novel.
At the heart of this moving work is a family matriarch, 75-year-old Lucinda Billings Maynard “Cinny” Posey. Though she is loath to admit it, Cinny has begun a slow slide into Parkinson’s disease. She’s hellbent against the concept of assisted living but is giving into assisted dying: She convinces her resistant adult children, Grace and Brian, to help her get moved into hospice care, where her plan is to starve herself to death. During her lengthy decline, Cinny scrawls page after page, finally stuffing these papers into seven envelopes and giving them to Grace as death descends. Her wish is to have her family take a trip around the world to scatter her ashes and those of her late English professor husband, Frank. Embarking on this journey are Grace, her husband, Jack, and their daughter, 24-year-old Chelsea; they are joined by bisexual Brian, his new bride, Ella, and her 16-year-old daughter, Sage. At each stop along the way, Cinny’s notes shed clarity on her relationship with Frank, helping Grace, Brian, and the rest to better understand their family’s dynamic. By the time the whirlwind pilgrimage ends, they are all more secure in their relationships with each other. The author successfully mines his personal history, including his background in academics and international travel, lending authenticity to this engaging narrative. The story is fast-paced, giving the reader the feel of the family’s rapid travel through Asia and Europe over three short weeks. The novel truly thrives thanks to its cast, beginning with Cinny, a child of Woodstock and a character with a capital C (Grace marvels, “She looks ten years older, but there’s so much of the old Mom there. Laughing. Joking. Giving me shit. I don’t have a clue how she manages to keep it up”) whose dying wish is to improve the lives of her twins, Grace and Brian, who have been clashing since sharing the womb. The result is a bracing novel in which an extended family actually returns re-energized from an exhausting voyage.
This upbeat story triumphs thanks to its veracity and memorable characters.