One of the joys of reading novels is that we can immerse ourselves in other lives. I love that I can observe other families, other communities, and witness entirely different worlds simply by turning the page.
Recently I read Florence Gordon by Brian Morton, a novel about an older woman, a feminist, writing her memoir at the end of her life. Florence is grouchy, self-centered and certainly not a “likeable” character. Yet, the very fact that she was not just older, but old, made me all the more interested to see how she manages old age when her life takes a turn for the worse.
As I grow older, (I’m not ready to say old) I have been gravitating more to novels where the older characters are the focus of the story. Three favorites come to mind.
How It All Began by Penelope Lively is simply superb. I continue to recommend it to all of my friends. The elderly protagonist, Charlotte Rainsford, has a fall, which affects not only her own life, but also the lives of her family and friends. Her fear of losing independence is haunting, but this novel has moments of touching kindness, along with an endearing love story.
Still Emily by Stewart O’Nan is in my pile to re-read. This story would also fit into my category of “quiet books.” Emily Maxwell, old and a widow, comes to the aid of sister-in-law, a dear friend, and in helping her she discovers new strengths within herself. It’s a novel of subtle triumphs and the enduring human spirit.
And if you love to laugh, don’t miss An Available Man by Hilma Wolitzer. Your heart will go out to Edward Schuyler, a lonely widower who enters the world of dating. At 62, he’s not terribly old, but after a long happy marriage, he endures the sometimes hilarious ups and downs of loss and love. Funny and smart, this novel is a delight.