Jean Vison lives alone, still mourning the death of her husband, Wayne, several years before. She isn't particularly close to her perfect daughter, Laura, not having seen her daughter and her family since her Wayne's funeral. She has built a life for herself though, startled out of her loneliness by her best friend and neighbor Loretta, who convinced Jean to start a book club to pull her out of her well of grief. And the women in the book club have become supportive friends, each handling and sometimes sharing her own challenges as well. Loretta's turned to steamy romance novels to make up for the fact that her retired husband has retreated to his recliner and no longer offers her physical or emotional intimacy in her marriage. Dorothy is constantly having to bail one son or another out of trouble or jail, railing about her no good ex every step of the way. May is unattached and seems to have the worst dating luck on the planet. Mitzi is obdurate and opinionated, often coming across as abrasive. And shy, retiring Janet, maligned for her size, is so reserved with her constant blushing that she is dismissed and trod upon.
While each of the women have something they are struggling with in their own lives, the focus is on Jean, especially when she receives a phone call from her son-in-law informing her that her daughter Laura is in the hospital. It is a terrible shock to Jean to discover that Curt and Laura are separated but an even bigger shock to be told that Laura is an alcoholic and needs to go to rehab. But that's not the last of the surprises for Jean. When Curt calls several days later and asks her to take Bailey, the teenaged granddaughter she barely knows, to live with her because he can't handle the child, Jean doesn't know what to do besides say yes. And so she's landed with a sullen, attention-starved, bitter teenager exploding into Jean's solitude and comfort, embarrassing her in front of her friends. It gets even more confused and stressful when Laura arrives on Jean's doorstep as well, having checked herself out of rehab. As Jean navigates her suddenly changed family circumstances, trying to break through to Bailey and understand how best to help Laura, the book club that she started as a way to rejoin the world after Wayne's death supports and helps her again. When she decides to take life by the horns, they are behind her all the way.
Both Jean and Bailey have to learn to let go of and forgive the past if they each want to come through their deep unhappiness, Jean for the loss of her husband and Bailey for the raw deal she figures life has handed her. But the novel is not all grief and strife; the scene where the book club has a chance to skewer the author they have read is quite funny and the still evolving relationships between the various women are touching. The different women of the book club have very different personalities and each of them offers the wisdom of her own experience to Jean as she struggles to show her love to her broken granddaughter. Jean and Bailey are both drawn fully and completely and with the third person omniscient narration, it is very easy to follow and sympathize with each of their motivations and feelings towards each other and towards the world around them. They are both realistic characters in need of healing. The way that Scott shows the needs of Jean and Bailey, sometimes in conflict with the needs of the other, is emotionally true and honest. The book has some difficult themes, alcoholism, emotional absence, and raging anger but it manages to retain a lightness to it. While the ending is a bit too facile given the depth of the novel's conflict, Scott has drawn an affecting tale of family, love, and forgiveness. Over all, this is a good and quick summer read, especially for people who love and appreciate book clubs.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.