Advertisements

Archive for the ‘aging’ Tag

Four’s a Crowd   Leave a comment

I was baffled by Emma Hooper’s Etta and Otto and Russell and James. It’s sweet but confusing. It’s a love story that considers lost chances and perhaps poor decisions. It’s also surprisingly descriptive in its brevity.

Etta is 83 years old when she embarks on a trek across Canada to the ocean. The five-sentence letter she leaves as explanation to her husband sets the tone for the novel: “Otto, I’ve gone. I’ve never seen the water, so I’ve gone there. Don’t worry, I’ve left you the truck. I can walk. I will try to remember to come back.”

This isn’t the kind of thing she’s planned, she simply leaves to see the coast. Briefly, Otto considers trying to find her. Ultimately, it’s Russell who does so, while Otto remains on the farm.

Along her trek, Etta gains unwanted attention from the media and towns people she encounters. She also acquires a companion in James, a source of bewilderment.

The relationships among the four title characters are complex. Otto and Russell have known each other since childhood. Both love Etta. Hooper develops the bond between Etta and Otto through letters the pair exchanged during the war. Their correspondence evolves from the mundane to the heartfelt.

Hooper intersperses the characters’ backstories with their present day adventures: Etta bound for the sea, Russell in search of Etta and Otto discovering daily rhythms on his own. Meanwhile, there’s James, who’s difficult to describe. Hooper has crafted a terse novel unpredictably rich with humor and longing.

Etta and Otto and Russell and James
Almost Four Bookmarks
Simon & Schuster, 2015
305 pages

Advertisements

An Allende Misstep   Leave a comment

Isabel Allende is among my favorite authors. I am reminded of how I feel about my kids: I love them even though they sometimes do things I don’t always like. Allende’s most recent novel, The Japanese Lover, is like that.

The story involves too many secrets, predictable plot lines and cardboard characters. Alma Belasco, a woman of means in her 80s, moves into Lark House, an unconventional nursing home. There she meets 23-year-old care-giver, Irina Bazili. The two bond, and soon Irina is helping Alma’s grandson, Seth, work on a book about Alma and the Belasco family history.

Of course, Irina has a past about which little is revealed, but Alma has secrets, too. As Seth and Irina learn more about Alma, it’s apparent there’s a lost love. Yawn. The younger couple believes the romance is still going strong, although this is all based on speculation.

There was, in fact, a lover. He started out as the youngest son of the Belasco family’s Japanese gardener and Alma’s childhood best friend. One of the most interesting aspects of the narrative is when Ichimei and his family are uprooted from their San Francisco home and relocated, with thousands of other Japanese-Americans, to an internment camp.

Given his role as title character, Ichimei is one-dimensional. Even Alma could have been so much more – especially in Allende’s hands. Alas, this is one of those books I didn’t like much; nonetheless, I look forward to the author’s next work.

The Japanese Lover
Two-and-a-half Bookmarks
Atria Books, 2015
322 pages