Tracy Bloom returns to the blog today with another story of meeting challenges to find yourself in
The Last Laugh
The second book I’ve read from this author, and again I’m finding that it is far different to what I expected: in all the good ways. Jenny and Mark have been together since 1996: he was on holiday with his mates and she was working as an events organizer for a packaged holiday company in Corfu. Full of laughter and life, willing to live each moment and not worry overmuch about the next phase of her life, Jenny is far different from anything Mark has ever encountered. But the chemistry between them was unmissable, and when an illicit birthday party results in Jenny being terminated: Mark makes his move. Twenty years, two teenaged kids, and Jenny still working in events – now for a care home for the elderly, she’s wondering just when the spark and fun left their marriage, and how the organized and goal-oriented man she fell in love with turned out to be such a stick in the mud. Her birthday dinner at a local Mexican restaurant is an unmitigated disaster, Mark has to go back to the office to work on an upcoming takeover, and the kids barely look up from their mobiles. Nothing is quite as she’d expected, and she’s hoping that somehow she’ll find the key.
But when the test results come in and she discovers she has cancer, then catches her husband bending a co-worker over a desk in his office, she’s devastated, confused, feeling alone and not sure about her next move. Enter Maureen, a resident at the care home who’s calmness and cheerfulness never disappoint. Maureen will help her decide what next, she’ll listen and advise, be that voice of reason and comfort that she won’t get at home, from her mother, her absent brother, or from her father in his own struggle with dementia.
Maureen is a hoot: plain speaking, caring but not coddling, and asking Jenny to think about what she REALLY wants, pushing her to live in the moment and learn to step back from controlling everything to focus on controlling only what she can. Jenny decides that 1996 was the point at which her life changed – and that perhaps the girl she was would and could have been different had she kept contact with those friends, been more willing to be foolish and have fun, not taking her life with Mark so seriously – since he did enough of the ‘being focused and serious’ for a whole host of people. Finding a way to encourage yet not smother her anxious son, standing up to an awful friend of her daughter because the kid could (and should) do and be better, even pushing her absent brother into interactions, reconnecting with old friends, taking moments to be silly and laugh and even going for her Ginger Spice hair – Jenny’s days are filled with moments of memory, fun, life and chances. It’s only the nights where pain, fear and worries take over. But one last giant fancy dress party, themed 1996 to all but her brother who was told muppets and arrived in a Kermit suit – the growth, friends and fun she hoped for appeared on the back lawn at the care home. A perfect send off – just before she planned to break the news the next day to family and friends.
Bloom managed to take all of the angst, the regrets and worries, and even the minor annoyances that cropped up in Jenny’s life as she reframed her attitude toward living for the now, as she did her best to become “just Jenny” not “poor Jenny with cancer, she’s being so brave’ . Surprised with Jenny’s resilience and her determination to rediscover her 1996 self, and in doing so rediscovering friends, support and the family she thought was lost to her – the story comes with plenty of moments to enjoy.
Title: The Last Laugh
Author: Tracy Bloom
Genre: Contemporary Woman's Fiction
Published by: Bookouture
Published on: 23 February, 2018
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
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‘I’ve googled it, how to die,’ Jenny says to Maureen. ‘It was full of climbing this mountain, swimming that sea, becoming a marathon runner and raising millions for charity.’
‘Sounds like bloody hard work. You can make it more fun than that surely?’
Jenny discovers her days are numbered at the same time she discovers her husband is having an affair…
Frankly, her life was tough enough already. Two tricky teenagers, her mother’s constant complaints, friends who aren’t up to the job and a career which has been spiralling downwards since she won ‘Sunseeker Tour Rep of the Season’ twenty years ago.
And now this: a cheating husband and a death sentence.
Enough is enough. Jenny vows to keep both catastrophes a secret. She takes her life – and death – into her own hands and decides to live as she did when she was happiest… in 1996. She plans a spectacular 1990’s themed party in place of a wake that she herself will attend. But will she be able to keep her secrets for long enough to have the party of a lifetime?
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher via NetGalley 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: