This was the March pick for my book club. We were set to meet as the stay at home orders started so we obviously didn’t get to discuss it. A member of the club pointed out the irony of having read a book about reconnecting and friendship just as we were holing up in our homes. Seems like a lifetime ago.
Kane’s novel is about the self imposed isolation of a middle aged woman who moved back home over a decade ago to help her father take care of her mother as she died. While May talks with co-workers, neighbors and the owner of a favorite local restaurant, she worries that she doesn’t fully engage. Haunted by her mother’s own withdrawal from life, she wonders if she is predestined to do the same.
After stumbling upon a stranger’s online obituary, May becomes fascinated by the deluge of comments about a woman that was universally beloved. Would anyone say anything that lovely about her? Does anyone even know her well enough to do so? Is it too late to prevent herself from following her mother’s path?
When she is given leave from work, May begins a journey to visit four women from her life; two friends from elementary and middle school, one from college and one from graduate school. She moves into guest rooms in Connecticut, Seattle, New York and London. Consulting her good manners book and striving to be a gracious guest, she also studies her hosts and their different ways of accommodating visitors into their lives. Without emails or text messages or Instagram to hide behind, they can’t curate a perfect life. Like an awkward middle school dance at first, guest and host eventually settle in. Tucking into wine after the kids are in bed, May and her friends revisit their childhoods and begin to know each other as grown adults.
This is a moody little book about changing course. There is no giant a-ha moment here. Kane doesn’t concoct an elaborate upending of May’s life or have her miraculously turn into someone she isn’t. It’s more about how curiosity and self reflection can shift us just enough to find a little happiness.
It’s hard not to take into account what is going on in the world right now and directly apply it to this novel. Social media can make us feel inadequate (learn a language! take online exercise classes! start a new hobby! dress up every day and put on full makeup! make a James Beard level dinner with what you have in your pantry!) while at the same time offering us some level of connection as physical contact is curtailed. Maybe our new normal can include a little more honesty and forgiveness? We would all be a little better off reaching out rather than lurking virtually.