Seventy-five year old, feminist icon Florence Gordon is the blazing star at the center of her universe in Brian Morton’s new novel. She uses her keen wit, fierce independence, and bad manners to avoid intimacy. Her closest satellites are her family, all engaged in an intellectual dance with the matriarch. Her granddaughter is allowed occasional, quick glimpses of vulnerability, but son, daughter-in-law, and ex-husband are firmly excluded. Friends , too. The story starts with a surprise birthday party for her from which Florence departs in disgust after a few minutes.
The ex-husband is a failed writer and whiny narcissist. The daughter-in-law, a therapist, worships Florence in a way that garners constant disdain from her idol. The son has abandoned intellectual Manhattan for life as police officer in Seattle. The granddaughter shares the acuity of her grandmother, but is working through the usual teenage challenges of relationships and lifestyle choices.
Morton writes in short chapters and varies the points of view among the characters, but does so with the skill that avoids the choppiness you might expect. The arc of the feminist movement is reflected in Florence’s past celebrity and her fading popularity… and also in the discoveries the granddaughter makes about her grandmother’s past.
I liked this book…including the unresolved conflicts in the lives of the characters. Instead of an awkward non-ending, this one seemed the natural unfolding of this particular universe.