Terri-Lynne DeFino comes to the blog today with a lovely story that contains several stories, all set in Maine, in a private care home for writers. Please read on for my review of
The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers
Stories within stories, what one might expect from a collection of authors from the days of Parker and Salinger, all now spending their last days at The Pen, a grand house reclaimed and repurposed by a former agent, known to them all: providing a safe place for all who enter. From residents to live-in staff, each of the characters we meet in this story finds purpose, hope and even insights during their stay.
What emerges are several ‘key’ stories for each person we meet: from Olivia’s abusive marriage and her subsequent outrageous, if not wholly confrontational behavior, Switch, the observer, confident in quiet, steady and solid. Judith, the editor in the early stages of dementia, known for her ability to serve the story only, not the author egos. Alphonse, the last to arrive and the one around whom the story seems to rotate – his body failing even as his itch to write is awakening, spurred on by Cecibel. An orderly at The Pen since she was released after a massive car accident that left her scarred.
When Alfonse, spurred on by his own memories, the thought of the admiration from Cecibel, and her hopes that he will sign one of his books for her, he finds a story, one that had no end or plan, but a story nonetheless. Olivia, being herself and unable /unwilling to allow Alfonse to retreat from her spots the story – and the plan is hatched. She and he will each write in alternating chapters, telling a story, perhaps their last story – that only Cecibel (in a series of faux-secrets) shall read. No planning, no discussion, no rewrites. Soon, the story becomes the focal point, as Olivia and Alphonse have a project, noticeable to both Switch and Judith. Soon the story becomes a ‘known secret’ between the four: a story set when they were young and hopeful, a romance with teeth and truth, the only audience to be Cecibel.
I’m not entirely sure what I expected from this book, and I think that even as it progressed, my expectations changed to wish for stories from all the characters, major and minor. Histories and backstories, fears and challenges, growth and acceptance of the end are all highlighted and bring readers in- the sly humor, the reveling in days past, even the gradual awakening for Cecibel that allows the hope of romance into her life, after years of hiding away and isolating herself. Not a fast paced story, the book within the book brings insight and a diversion as these once literary greats now write with a freedom that perhaps they never before experienced. It’s not about the process or even the end product here- it is a story that shows possibilities and open doors, even as it is draped in the finality of death and loss. Engaging, engrossing and quietly all-encompassing, this is a story to experience and enjoy.
Title: The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (And Their Muses)
Author: Terri-Lynne DeFino
Genre: Contemporary Woman's Fiction, Literary Fiction
Published by: William Morrow Paperbacks
Published on: 12 June, 2018
Source: Publisher Via Edelweiss
Audio Length: 12 Hours: 28 minutes
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A whimsical, moving novel about a retirement home for literary legends who spar, conjure up new stories, and almost magically change the lives of the people around them.
Alfonse Carducci was a literary giant who lived his life to excess—lovers, alcohol, parties, and literary rivalries. But now he's come to the Bar Harbor Home for the Elderly to spend the remainder of his days among kindred spirits: the publishing industry's nearly gone but never forgotten greats. Only now, at the end of his life, does he comprehend the price of appeasing every desire, and the consequences of forsaking love to pursue greatness. For Alfonse has an unshakeable case of writer's block that distresses him much more than his precarious health.
Set on the water in one of New England's most beautiful locales, the Bar Harbor Home was established specifically for elderly writers needing a place to live out their golden years—or final days—in understated luxury and surrounded by congenial literary company. A faithful staff of nurses and orderlies surround the writers, and are drawn into their orbit, as they are forced to reckon with their own life stories. Among them are Cecibel Bringer, a young woman who knows first-hand the cost of chasing excess. A terrible accident destroyed her face and her sister in a split-second decision that Cecibel can never forgive, though she has tried to forget. Living quietly as an orderly, refusing to risk again the cost of love, Cecibel never anticipated the impact of meeting her favorite writer, Alfonse Carducci—or the effect he would have on her existence. In Cecibel, Alfonse finds a muse who returns him to the passion he thought he lost. As the words flow from him, weaving a tale taken up by the other residents of the Pen, Cecibel is reawakened to the idea of love and forgiveness.
As the edges between story and reality blur, a world within a world is created. It’s a place where the old are made young, the damaged are made whole, and anything is possible….
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher Via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: