3.5 stars rounded upwards. My thanks go to Algonquin Books and Net Galley for the invitation to read and review. This book is for sale now.
The premise is one that a lot of readers over age 40 will be able to relate to. Herb and Susan have been very happy, but as they enter their twilight years, Susan is no longer able to care for herself or even communicate well. I don’t think we are ever told the specific cause, whether it’s a stroke that’s left her undone, or dementia, or some other thing, but the result is the same. Herb believes he is qualified to care for his wife, together with a home health assistant that he can well afford to pay, but the truth is, he is too forgetful to do the job properly. In fact, he is closer than he will admit to needing care himself.
Susan always did love a good mani-pedi, and so he hires a traveling manicurist to stop in and take care of Susan’s nails. The young woman that calls herself Renee does more than that, however; she becomes fond of Susan, and shows up with outlandish hats and art supplies and other things that make Susan smile.
But now the family is here, the responsible, busy adults that can see this situation is untenable. They want to move Herb and Susan to a care facility, but Herb is adamantly opposed. Herb isn’t going to have anything to say about it much longer, though, and he can see the handwriting on the wall.
As I read first half of this little book, I feel a certain amount of reviewer’s remorse. Why have I signed on to read this thing? It’s supposed to be funny, but it isn’t. And I took it because it has been billed as humorous; ordinarily I avoid books about aging.
About halfway into it, however, my feelings begin to change, because I realize this story isn’t about Herb and Susan. It’s about the manicurist, whose real name is Dee-Dee. Dee-Dee comes from hardscrabble poverty, and has escaped from a trafficking situation she was thrust into just as puberty began. She took some of the traffickers’ money when she fled, and she uses the name Renee to cover her trail.
Herb’s son is leery of Dee-Dee. He believes she has questionable motives; maybe she a grifter, or a gold digger, or who knows what? When he uncovers her true identity, he is sure he is right. As preparations are made to move the old folks and sell the house, he visits her in the sad little trailer where she is staying to warn her off.
I like the interplay of these two characters of wildly disparate social classes, and the difference in their thinking. The most redemptive feature throughout this quirky little novel is the voice that comes through. The rich (asshole) son is absolutely believable, though his is a minor character; that’s okay, I don’t really want to spend more time with him. But sweet little Dee-Dee, who is desperately undereducated and has nobody to help her, nevertheless tends to give others the benefit of the doubt. She’s plucky, using advanced vocabulary words that she’s picked up, planning for her future.
It seems likely that this sweet little novel will get less credit than it should, because of the way it’s marketed. When we see a book in the humor section, we expect it to make us laugh. It has a warm and fuzzy cover, and nobody would expect the serious trigger issues contained within it. (Do NOT buy this book as summer reading for your precocious middle schooler!) Had it been presented to readers as a whimsical tale of friendship, it would have met with friendlier reviews.
Recommended for adults over 40 that are looking for a beach read.