Why this book?
Confession: I bought this novel partly for its gorgeous floral jacket...a bait-and-switch for the emotional claustrophobia in which it begins. I fell in love with it because of how deep I was drawn into lives I didn't think I could care about. Fred, a retired engineering professor--wife deceased, son severely disabled, adoptive daughter estranged--has banished himself to wither self-righteously away in a retirement village. But circumstances force him to let someone in: his neighbor, Jan, who's suffered her own misfortunes yet leads the most engaged life she can.
Set in Australia, this increasingly exhilarating and witty novel shows how it's never too late to face down eviscerating truths, make amends, and flout conventions; also, how friendships can save us (as I learned during my year of heartbreak). As a writer, I was stunned by an extended real-time scene in which an automotive mishap lands Jan and Fred in a glamorous restaurant where, as they drink the night away, Jan puts Fred through a soul-scorching confrontation about his cowardice. Reading this book a second time, I loved it just as much.