Saturday, October 4, 2014

Review: Mimi Malloy, At Last by Julia MacDonnell

Sometimes people don't want to acknowledge or face the less than perfect things that pop up in life. And while it is important to stay positive and to focus on the good, only the full range of our experiences tells the story of our lives. Those things that are swept into dusty corners and neglected or unacknowledged might not be pleasant but they form us indelibly just as much as the wonderful things do. In Julia MacDonnell's quirky novel, Mimi Malloy, At Last, about an aging woman determined, nay, insistent, on letting sleeping dogs lie, this is very true.

Mimi Malloy is irascible. She is going to speak her mind and age in her own way, preferably with a cigarette, a drink in her hand, and some Sinatra on the stereo. That her memory has some rather alarming holes in it gives her pause not at all. She is an entertaining character, in both senses of the word, and her policy of moving forward into the future without looking back at the past is working for her. Well, it is working for her until her family wants to start prying into the whole story, even the repressed memories Mimi long ago buried as far out of her consciousness as possible. But Mimi will be a tough nut to crack. She's a pistol, suddenly retired, the divorced mother of six and one of a clutch of bickering, chattering, loving sisters. Mimi's brain also shows evidence of atrophy and she personally sees no point in digging into the holes. Mimi refuses to consider assisted living like her eldest daughter suggests, plugging along in her apartment, getting to know Duffy, the super, and fielding phone calls and visits from her surviving sisters and many daughters.

But Mimi's new and carefully constructed life hits a bump in the road when one of her sisters starts delving into the past and the family genealogy on behalf of her grandson. She finds a necklace that once belonged to her mother and all of a sudden, this find, in addition to the questions about the past, start bringing memories to the surface. The ghosts of her late sisters start to visit her and make her face the terrible unhappiness in her past. She's not alone as she relives the pain of one sister being sent away never to be seen or heard from again and life with her nasty, abusive stepmother. Her relationship with Duffy the super turns into a sweet romance and a haven for both of them in the face of deep hurts and family secrets.

Although the mystery of what happened to unruly sister Fagan turns out to be unsurprising, it is the uncovering of her fate with Mimi and the rest of the close and inquiring but pushy family that is the real journey of the novel. Mimi's struggle for continued independence in the face of her concerned daughters and her medical situation is a touching one, even if Mimi is often crotchety ands short towards those to whom she is closest. The book is rife with humor but also with sadness and loss. MacDonnell also introduces a storyline that juxtaposes false memories with repressed memories but that never calls into question the veracity of Mimi's sudden piecemeal recollections. Mimi may be getting older, but she can reinvent her life just as well as anyone else can and she's not going to relinquish control if she can help it. As a character Mimi comes off as older than she actually is and there are some pieces of the plot that feel unnecessary but over all, this is a warm story about family, aging, and the past, all centered around the female equivalent of a grumpy old man.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

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