First, let me just acknowledge something: my intellectual “vocabulary” is somewhat limited. I am what we used to call a Concrete Sequential, a straight shooter. There’s probably a fancier term these days, but in the end, while I don’t make the pretty things, I do appreciate them, and am happy to balance the checkbooks of those who do so they can continue.
My favorite books, the ones I can’t wait to get home to and which are truly occupying my thoughts regardless of what it looks like I’m doing, typically have a plot. It doesn’t have to race along, shit doesn’t have to blow up, but generally I need something to happen as a result of or as catalyst for other things. Even the more out-there stuff I like tends to move, if not forward, somewhere.
Nora Webster is recently widowed, in her mid-40s, and is dealing with/learning to navigate life both on her own and with the presence of often well-meaning but sometimes overstepping friends, acquaintances, and family members. In one sentence, that’s what Nora Webster is about. She gets her hair done, buys some new dresses, takes singing lessons, develops a new social circle. And that’s it. While I was waiting for something to happen, I missed that. So I backtracked a little.
What I found was a lot more interesting. While some of the mundane details are almost annoying (buy the goddamned turntable or don’t! Who cares?), if they’re seen as steps toward independence, or more important, toward Nora’s figuring out what kind of life she wants to live, they’re monumental. It’s heartrending for Nora to realize how others see and have seen her. Honestly, she’s not terribly likable. It feels like she’s existed in a fog since her husband’s death, it’s starting to lift, and the resulting clarity moves her to action. It’s shocking especially for Nora to try to re-engage with her children; she’s been there for them all along, technically, but had missed the fact that others in their lives had assumed more important roles than her own.
Nora takes a major stand on her youngest child’s behalf, and we learn she’d done something similar many years before, behind her husband’s back, and lied to him about it. I loved that. How many of her impulses toward action had been there all along while she did exactly what was expected — quite happily, incidentally?
I would have given it five stars if he’d explored a couple of really interesting things further, most notably the relationship Nora has with her oldest child, Fiona. Fiona’s pretty threatened by her mother’s new independence and I’d like to see where that went.
You should read it.