First, it is a novel of the romance persuasion with the classic love triangle though set in the 1920's and 30's traveling circus culture. Not that I am well read by any means, but I have never been exposed to a novel meeting all three of those criteria at the same time, notably the circus part. If anything, that aspect peaked my interest for trying the book out. I did not care much for the explicit portrayals of immorality, foul language (of which I did my fancy black gel pen editing on), and prevalence of alcoholism, yet the instances definitely give the reader a glimpse into that time and culture. So, I concede: mission accomplished for the author.
Second, I like how the book begins and then revisits the beginning near the end. Without disclosing too much, the entire scene being repeated with knowing all the details leading up to that flashback scene ties the book up with a strong common thread. The book totally came alive for me at that point.
And lastly, the surprising underlying theme of ageism struck a chord and it kept me reading. Gruen makes strong statements through revealing the thought processes of the aging mind, both humorous and serious, and allowing the audience to vicariously witness the uncharitable treatment of the elderly. She hammers home her message that the elderly are still valuable people by juxtaposing caregiver against caregiver and family by blood against family by culture.
I want to share a few of my favorite quotes related to the elderly and ageism gleaned from this novel. While they come from the mouth of Jacob Jankowski, and elderly man, I identify with his words in the here and now as well as when pondering on growing old:
Keeping up the appearance of having all your marbles is hard work but important.
I hate this bizarre policy of protective exclusion, because it effectively writes me off the page. If I don't know what's going on in their lives, how am I supposed to insert myself in the conversation?
Either I'm finally going senile, or else it's my mind's way of coping with being entirely unchallenged in the present.
I'm so used to being scolded and herded and managed and handled that I'm no longer sure how to react when someone treats me like a real person.
and last, but not least:
Age is a terrible thief. Just when you're getting the hang of life, it knocks your legs out from under you and stoops your back. It makes you ache and muddies your head and silently spreads cancer throughout your spouse.
I hope my words coupled with those of Sara Gruen might challenge us all to be more mindful of how we view/treat the aging among us.
all things purple: Ageism: What to do about it?