There Was an Old Woman by Hallie Ephron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I chose this as the book club selection for our group. I based my decision off of a review by Orson Scott Card, because I find that we have similar tastes.
While my book club had problems with it (as did I), I did enjoy it and the discussion that it created.
Plot: The gist of this suspense novel is that Evie is called on to help her mother, who is quite old and who has apparently gone on a massive alcohol overdosing binge. Evie meets the nice older lady next door, who seems to be losing her memory. But someone also seems to be trying to get rid of all the old people in the area. Or is it just in the old lady’s mind? The plot was fairly straightforward, with not a lot of twists or turns. My book group thought the ending was too obvious. I had to explain the difference between mystery and suspense, dramatic irony and tension. The plot, to me, wasn’t a problem because this is an Idea story and that is what interested me.
Setting: The story is set in the imaginary location of Higgs Point, roughly around Clason Point in the Bronx. Most of the description was spent on the dilapidated home of Evie’s mother and the contrast with the neighbor’s home. Scenery was mostly just background and I felt like this could have been placed just about anywhere. The setting didn’t get in the way of the story (except for the idea of a huge basement holding carnival rides on a point of land where the water table would have been fairly close to the surface).
Characters: Most of my book group felt like the characters were all really one-dimensional, with no complexity and no character arcs. There was the obvious bad guy, the jerk boyfriend, the independent and fierce protagonist, the perfect sister, and the nice old lady. While the characters are rather obviously typed, I found that I liked Evie and the old lad, Mina. And I thought that they were developed well through the story.
Conflict: The conflict of growing old and being taken care of and independence were all intertwined here in a lovely way for me. It reminded me of King Lear. The idea that old people are and can be taken advantage of, has some interesting turns. And while this kind of topic might not appeal to a younger crowd, it is relevant in the way we treat each other and the cultural expectations (or lack thereof) of respect for elders.
Text: The writing was unobtrusive and clear.
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