At the age of 72, Lily Maynard finds herself suddenly famous for a memoir she has published about the disintegration of her marriage years before at the height of the civil rights movement, the women's movements, and the religious shifts of the 1960's. The book brings two young women into her life: one a journalist who wants to do a story on her, the other an African-American historian who takes an interest in the connections between her personal history and the pressures of the civil rights conflicts.

Simultaneous with her cresting notoriety is an exacerbation of the Parkinson's disease which makes it necessary for Lily to move in temporarily with her son and his wife while awaiting a place in a retirement home. Half her face is paralyzed; she has difficulty feeding herself; and her extreme fatigue makes it hard to conduct interviews without dissolving into a fog of incommunicable feeling.

Each of the younger people involved in her life is driven to come to terms with his or her own life in new ways, especially her son, who finds complex feelings surfacing after years of emotional estrangement. Ultimately, her story told, Lily quietly exits the family before relocation to a home by committing suicide with an overdose of medication. In the aftermath Alan's grief gives him a new understanding of his mother's life and his own.


This story presents a fugue of relationships: not so much a portrait of a family as a portrait of an old woman in relation to an array of younger people who are to different degrees invested in her life story and capable of understanding it. The reader gets to know each character both by means of the dialogues with Lily and by skillful passages that articulate the feelings and reflections triggered in their encounters with her.


Harper Collins

Place Published

New York



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