Summary (Amazon): Meet Florence Gordon: blunt, brilliant, cantankerous and passionate, feminist icon to young women, invisible to almost everyone else. At seventy-five, Florence has earned her right to set down the burdens of family and work and shape her legacy at long last. But just as she is beginning to write her long-deferred memoir, her son Daniel returns to New York from Seattle with his wife and daughter, and they embroil Florence in their dramas, clouding the clarity of her days and threatening her well-defended solitude. And then there is her left foot, which is starting to drag…
My Review (Spoilers!!)
Executive Summary: real
This book was one of the ones that I suggested for the literary fiction choice for this year’s book club list. It wasn’t the one that was chosen, however, but I managed to catch it on a Kindle Daily Deal for $2.99 so I went ahead and snagged it. And I wasn’t disappointed. However, I should say that if you are looking for a story with a plot, and a point, and protagonists and antagonists, this isn’t your book.
Florence Gordon can basically be fully summed up by the first 2 paragraphs of the book:
“Florence Gordon was trying to write a memoir, but she had two strikes against her: she was old and she was an intellectual. And who on earth, she sometimes wondered, would want to read a book about an old intellectual?
Maybe it was three strikes because not only was she an intellectual, she was a feminist. Which meant that if she ever managed to finish this book, reviewers would inevitably dismiss it as ‘strident’ and shrill'”
The only thing that is missing from those paragraphs is Florence’s crankiness and utter disregard for things that she does not like. She is in no way a likeable character, but she is that voice in your head that you wish sometimes you had. Like when her friend is spending more time on her blackberry than she is participating in the conversation, Florence drops it into a pitcher of sangria. Or yelling at the stranger who cuts in line, when she isn’t even in the line herself.
Florence lives in Manhattan (of course). She is long divorced, but keeps contact with her ex-husband, Saul. Saul is a “writer” in that he never has things published and continues to wallow as a has been. He is the only character who is allowed to get away with this. Florence’s only son, Daniel, is a police officer (and disappointment) who lives in Seattle. His wife and daughter currently live in New York as well–Janine (wife) is doing research at Columbia and Emily (daughter) has quit college and is figuring out her life. They have a son as well but he plays no role.
Daniel comes to New York as he has accrued a large amount of vacation, and the family is back together. Except not really. Florence still keeps to herself. Emily is trying to figure out her life. Jeanine is in an emotional relationship with her boss at work, and Daniel is just trying to avoid the put downs from the intellectual parents that he moved away from. When Florence’s latest book scores a review in the New York Times, calling Florence a “national treasure”, things begin to change for her. She goes on her first book tour, picks up more speaking gigs, and she decides to take on her granddaughter as an assistant.
Emily and Florence have a great chemistry. They are both strong characters, but Emily is coming into her own whereas Florence has had many years to build. Florence is the one unchanging thing in Emily’s life especially during a period where she breaks up with a depressed boyfriend and her parents struggle to fix their relationship. Emily begins facing challenges by essentially asking herself “What would Florence do?”. What she doesn’t realize, until the end, is that Florence is facing challenges of her own.
I’m not really sure how I personally feel about the ending of the book, so I’m not even going to share it. I think though that there is something special in a book that makes you keep going back and revisiting it in your mind to figure out what to make of it. And this book certainly did that for me.
Verdict: 4 stars
I really enjoyed this book. There was something so realistic and honest about it, and I really think that a lot of people could benefit from reading about it and thinking about their own responses to personal challenges. My actual choice for book club is next month, so we will see if it is as good as the runner up!