Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Review: The Leisure Seeker by Michael Zadoorian

Very often we tend to infantilize the elderly. We say old people are in a second childhood and act as if they need to be protected from themselves and all the things that can go wrong to and for them. Most often we do this out of a sense of love. We want them to be safe and cared for but we are undeniably taking away much of their own agency, discounting their knowledge and wishes. Don't get me wrong, sometimes the decisions we make on behalf of the frail and elderly in our lives are the only ones we can possibly make. But we also have to consider their situations and think long and hard before we deny them the pleasures that make life worth sticking around for. Getting old doesn't automatically equal incompetence and sometimes death, the scary outcome we try so hard to deny both for ourselves and on behalf of those we love, is a risk worth taking if we get to live more along the way. Michael Zadoorian truly gets this, as evidenced by his funny, entertaining, and poignant novel, The Leisure Seeker, coming out this month as a movie starring Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland.

Ella and John Robina are in their eighties. They've been married for 60 some odd years and they've had a full life together. Now Ella has terminal breast cancer and John has Alzheimer's. Ella is failing physically and John is failing mentally but they want to make one last trip together. Well, Ella wants one last trip and John is amenable to suggestion even though the Robina's children and their doctors are against it. These two old codgers sneak off in their '78 Leisure Seeker, determined to follow Route 66 from their home in Detroit to Disneyland one last time, escaping the futile medical treatments and unwelcome opinions of those who want to choose how they spend their final days or years.

Ella is hilarious, acerbic and witty; she's the brains of the operation. John might only have very sporadic flashes of memory but he can still drive and he's happy to be directed by Ella; he's the brawn. As these two travel across Route 66, they are traveling back into their history together, watching slides each evening as they camp and talking through their long life (or at least Ella is even when John can't), but they are also enjoying their life right now. Sure, Ella has to pop little blue "discomfort" pills and John doesn't often know where he is or who the people Ella is talking about are, but their love for each other and all of its attendant joy and frustration continues to shine through the novel. They have some crazy escapades on their road trip and they do some perfectly banal things as well but in both cases, the reader is happy to travel along with them.

There is both regular humor and black humor galore here leavening the fact that Ella and John are making it clear that aging isn't for sissies. Ella's first person narrative voice is honest and straightforward and the story itself is touching. Zadoorian has a great eye for detail (as in the description of the 70's decor of the camper) as well as a deep understanding of his characters and the curve balls that they've been thrown in these, their twilight years. His depiction of a man with Alzheimer's is heartbreaking and true but he refrains from wallowing in the sadness of John's loss by celebrating the moments when John's memory sparks and showing the simple joy Ella feels in those fleeting moments. His portrayal of Ella is equally well done, her stubbornness and determination, her refusal to consider ridiculous treatments in the face of her real prognosis, and her deep loyalty to her husband. The book doesn't flinch from the realities and indignities of aging and disease but it also celebrates life for as long as there's life left in the old geezers. Although the story could be depressing, it is in fact the exact opposite. It's life affirming and highly entertaining in spite of the omnipresent shadow of mortality. The end is perfect; it could not be any other way. This novel is both laughter and tears, light and dark. In a nutshell, that's life.

The movie has clearly been changed a bit from the book but in the ways that matter, it looks as if it will be true to the story and I am looking forward to seeing it. It releases on January 19th but in the meantime, you can view the trailer on YouTube here or watch below.


For more information about Michael Zadoorian and the book, check out his website, like the book on Facebook, or follow Zadoorian on Twitter. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.
Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins for inspiring me to pull this off my shelf sooner rather than later.

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