The tag line for The Forgotten Life of Eva Gordon by Linda MacKillop is “Eva wants to run away from her life–if only she could remember how.”
Eva has been moved from her long-time cozy home in Cape Cod to the city of Boston to live with her granddaughter, Breezy. And Eva hates it. She hates the city, she misses the familiarity of her own home and town, she’s an introvert who has a hard time with the constant stream of students and friends in Breezy’s house. Breezy’s neighbor, Mabel, tries to keep an eye on Eva, but Eva feels Mabel is intrusive.
Then, on top of everything else, Breezy announces that she’s getting married to her boyfriend, Ian, and they’re all going to live in Ian’s old fixer-upper family farm with his elderly uncle.
It’s all overwhelming for Eva, but she’s stuck. She can’t count on her memory any more. Even when she works out what seems like a perfectly logical plan, she ends up getting into trouble.
I was first attracted to this book because I identified a lot with Eva. I’d probably feel the same way in her situation.
But as the story unfolds through flashes of Eva’s memories, there’s more to Eva than the desire for solitude and independence. She’s been pretty awful, driving her husband and children away, saying negative things without thinking (even before dementia). I wish we’d gotten a little better idea of why Eva was the way she was. The only clue I caught was that her dad tended to speak to her the same harsh way.
I think all of us would like to live independently, mentally and physically capable, til we’re 100. But reality doesn’t always work out that way. One poignant piece of advice Mabel offers is, “When the time come to release the last smidge of life, Eva, you want to have kissed the most important things good-bye already. Getting old like us involves lots of little deaths to prepare for the big one—like saying good-bye to loved ones, your home, your health” (p. 249). I’m tucking that away for later.
I can’t say I warmed up to Eva like I have other curmudgeonly characters. But I did come to appreciate her struggles, empathize with her, and understand her better. There’s no grand climax of eye-opening for her, but a gradual realization that she has treated people badly and needs to accept them and life circumstances more graciously.
I was curious about what inspired the author to write this book, so I searched a bit and found this interview, which helped me understand the story a little more. I especially liked this sentence: “The characters in the novel decide to move toward Eva without being put off by her abrasive personality, giving her the opportunity to decide whether she’ll receive their love and acceptance.”
I liked the theme of second chances. Even in old age, even in dementia, steps can be taken to heal relationships and accept love.
I love that quote of Mabel’s too! I think I’d feel like Eva in many ways as well. This sounds like a good book; too bad Eva isn’t more likeable.
Although this wasn’t the main point of the book, Breezy and Mabel were good examples of how to deal with someone like Eva.
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I’ve never seen this book but it does sound good.
I was thinking I had seen it mentioned at your place, but I guess not. I can’t remember where it first caught my eye.