“ Paperback: 384 pages / Publisher: Mira Books / Published: 15 Aug 2003 „
Ellen Jameson's life has been going down the tubes for the last few years. She is a forty-something widow, left bankrupt following her husband's untimely death and along with her daughter and granddaughter, she is having to move in with her mother, Wilma. Unfortunately, Wilma has problems of her own, the main one being that she is currently threatened with eviction, so home for these four generations of females may only be a temporary abode at best. Ever the optimist, Ellen is the only member of the quartet who is even remotely facing up to the harsh realities of their situation as her mother and daughter seem to think that men will fix their money problems. It's pretty obvious that it's time for all of them to let go of their past and face the future.
Dealing as it does with the aftermath of a painful bereavement, the subject matter for this story is pretty emotive stuff at times and in less skilled hands could have easily descended into mawkish sentimentality. Pamela Morsi, however, is a first rate writer and she doesn't stoop to those kind of tricks. She deals head on with the issues raised in the book, allowing her characters to react to their present situation in ways that are both realistic and believable. There is a little artistic licence as nobody wants to be dragged down by a story of unrelenting gloom about a family on its beam end, but in the main it's very easy for the reader to picture themselves in a similar situation, though mercifully in this country, we are blessed with social medicine.
The catalyst for all their current woes is the death of Ellen's husband, Paul, from cancer. She had refused to face the inevitability of Paul's death which actually compounded the problem by burdening the family with the ever-mounting debt of Paul's hospital bills. If ever I was made aware of just how privileged we are to have the NHS, it was reading of Ellen's bankruptcy and the shattering of not only her dreams for the future but those of her teenaged daughter, Amber, too. This book couldn't be set on this side of the Atlantic because the hopeless financial situation the women find themselves faced with just wouldn't happen here. Thank heavens for the Welfare State!
Following Paul's death, Ellen has been wrapped up in her own misery, leaving Amber to deal with matters in her own way. This led to a week-long fling with a casual pick up resulting in the birth of Jet who bears not only the stigma of illegitimacy but is also mixed race.
Once the four generations of females are ensconced in Wilma Post's little house in San Antonio, it soon becomes apparent that there is a major problem. Wilma has been a serial bride throughout her life, marrying men for what she could get and her final husband, who died after only 22 months of marriage, never made a new will. This has resulted in the late Mr Post's children attempting to evict Wilma from her home and they've engaged the best law firm in San Antonio to mastermind proceedings. All looks pretty hopeless but Ellen, ever the optimist, has managed to find herself a job working for a local accountant and Amber also has a part-time job working in a lingerie store down at the Mall. Even if Ellen can't afford the best legal advice and the situation is looking ever more bleak, she's always hopeful that things will turn out right in the end.
Ellen is a living example of the saying, 'good girls finish last'. She's always done what she thought was best: for her husband, her daughter and her granddaughter but despite her optimism, life is beating her down and even five years on, she still misses her husband and seems unable to let go. She even still has his ashes which she can't bring herself to scatter. It's plain to see that her life won't get better until she moves on but with all that's going on within her somewhat dysfunctional family, moving on seems well nigh impossible. Ellen is a pragmatist at heart, however, and one of those who just gets on with things. 'Her career was gone, retirement was impossible. Death was what she had to look forward to......As she was very likely to live, she really needed to get a job.'
Wilma, too, is facing the realities of her situation for the first time in her sixty-one years. As the somewhat unmaternal matriarch she's providing a roof over all of their heads but it seems the only way to keep it there is if she manages to snag another husband and as a lifelong smoker with emphysema, it's looking highly unlikely. When she hears Ellen's talk of her new boss, Max, Wilma does some digging and decides Max may just be their next meal ticket but her plan may just go awry. Despite her penchant for marriage for reasons other than love, there is an indomitability about Wilma which is hidden behind a rather wry and often sarcastic facade.
Of all the adult women in the household, the least likable is Amber. She's just plain brattish. So her father died and her mother was too bereft to see that her daughter was grieving, too. So, she had to give up her dreams of going to college and get a job. What does Amber do about it? She goes out and gets pregnant and though she loves her little daughter, she's content to let her mother do most of the child rearing whilst she goes out drinking, clubbing and sleeping with every Tom, Dick and Harry she comes across. She's twenty-one now, so very much a grown up but not only is she's planning to move into an apartment with another of her so-called friends and leave Jet behind with her mother and Wilma, she intends to fund this change in circumstances by sleeping with men for money. To call Amber brattish is being kind!
Juxtaposed against the three adult women of the household, little Jet is a delight. She's everything a four-year-old child should be; full of wonder, hope and confidence. She's unaware that her mixed race origins may potentially be a problem in later years. All she knows is that she loves her mother, her grandmother and her great-grandmother and that they love her. Despite much that is wrong in these women's lives, they've done a cracking job of raising little Jet.
This story is definitely character driven but that isn't to the detriment of the plot which is equally strong. As the reader learns more and more about each of the adult's situations, it's impossible not to be rooting for each one of them to come through their dark times into the light. All the major characters are beautifully realised and although they are American women whose day-to-day experiences aren't totally similar to those of us on the other side of the Atlantic, their situation isn't impossible for European women to imagine.
The secondary characters are just as well rounded as the main protagonists. One of the more ephemeral of these secondary figures is Mrs Stanhope and for most of the book, I was unable to figure out quite how she would fit into the story but as the story progressed, all became much clearer.
There is a good deal of homespun philosophy scattered throughout the book but, again, it never seems too saccharine sweet and tends more towards wry observation. Pamela Morsi began her writing career as a writer of Americana romance novels and they were pretty good ones, too. She obviously found the romance genre too limiting and has now branched out into women's fiction and seems to be making every bit as good a success in her new chosen genre.
This book can be picked up for 1p plus postage from Amazon, a low price which belies the quality reading experience to be had. I can't recommend Pamela Morsi's books highly enough. She's a first rate storyteller who deserves more of the limelight than she currently receives.