They May Not Mean To, But They Do by Cathleen Schine Reviewed by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge

They May Not Mean To, But They Do by Cathleen Schine. Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016. 290 pages; $26.00 (hardcover); reading level: adult.

Only a seasoned writer could have pulled this one off: As I read Schine’s clear-eyed novel, I laughed and cried at the same time. I cried with the protagonist, eighty-six-year-old Joy Bergman, as she sees her flawed husband, the love of her life, through to his death and then becomes lonely and alarmed by this “awful, needy person who was herself.” I laughed with that same character as she recovers her chutzpah at unexpected moments. To airport security she announces: “I am free of prosthetics…I am also free of most of my large bowel, my gallbladder, my uterus, ovaries, and appendix.” I laughed and cried with Joy’s son Daniel (who lives near his mother but is clueless) and daughter Molly (who has committed “geographical treachery” by moving away from Manhattan). I sympathized with these two as they attempted that age-old but impossible grown-child task: trying to negotiate their own lives and families while taking “proper” care of their parents. By the last page of Schine’s novel, I had witnessed the aging process from four generational angles. And if I found myself with no prescriptions on how to take up my given role in this very human drama, I felt vaguely assured that I will somehow find a way to laugh, cry, and live my way through it.

Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge, Author

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