Book Reviews

Florence Gordon by Brian Morton

20256545[1]“A wise and entertaining novel about a woman who has lived life on her own terms for seventy-five defiant and determined years, only to find herself suddenly thrust to the center of her family’s various catastrophes

Meet Florence Gordon: blunt, brilliant, cantankerous and passionate, feminist icon to young women, invisible and underappreciated by most 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 with the frustrations of middle-age and the confusions of youth. And then there is her left foot, which is starting to drag.

With searing wit, sophisticated intelligence, and a tender respect for humanity in all its flaws, Brian Morton introduces a constellation of unforgettable characters. Chief among them, Florence, who can humble the fools surrounding her with one barbed line, but who eventually finds there are realities even she cannot outsmart.”~Goodreads

The final book I read in 2014 was Florence Gordon (Sept., 2014) and a perfect way to end the year. A book about real people who are flawed and struggle to connect with one another and those around them. I can’t say that I truly liked any of the characters but it didn’t take away from the story. Having these people unable and unwilling to communicate their inner most feelings made for a strong character study. Here are people who are successful (Florence), intelligent, witty, just really good people (aside from Florence’s hilarious bluntness) who cannot for the life of them sustain relationships. And I completely understood.

“It was a joy to be alone. It was fun to play the social role, it was fun to play the old lion at Town Hall, but it was far better to be alone again…

The strain of being with other people was sometimes close to unendurable. The strain of other people’s need.”

Florence is such a force to be reckoned with and I love her. She is a character, flaws and all, that I would want to spend time with, learn from, aspire to. Not so much her rudeness but her confidence, convictions and resilience about life made me smile proudly. In sticky situations, she never waivered to be her true self and yet she held back at times when she knew the moment wasn’t right to unleash; the person couldn’t take her honesty. She reminded me of Olive Kitteridge, another gem.

Of course, the title is “Florence Gordon” and yes she steals every scene, but the supporting characters had equally important side stories. What was beautifully executed was the reveal into the different stages of life: Emily’s 19 year-old self, Janine and Daniel’s mid-life marriage and Florence’s mature acceptance of aging and finally being recognized for what she did for feminism. And the beautiful-ness of Morton’s writing was how at each stage in life there are similar thoughts of doubt, insecurity, disappointment and the main struggle to keep feelings at bay.

This book screams “Book Club” and I am still wowed by the fact that a man wrote this book. Yes, men are great writers but to tackle the topics of feminism, female aging and the inner voice of a woman (at various ages) was impressive.

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