Adams Media: 12/5/2014
eBook, 288 pages
An hour and a half outside Tucson, Arizona, The Commons is a luxury retirement community where no full-time resident under the age of fifty-five is permitted. Young professionals Seth and Alison Collier accept jobs there as a means of dealing (badly) with a recent loss. When a struggling resident, underwater on her mortgage and unable to relocate due to the nation’s ongoing housing crisis, is discovered to be raising her grandson in secret, the story--with the help of a well-meaning teenaged beauty blogger and a retiree with reasons of his own to seek the spotlight--goes viral. You Could Be Home By Now explores the fallout for all involved, taking on the themes of grief and memory, aspiration and social class, self-deception, and the drive in all of us to find a place to belong.
You Could Be Home By Now by Tracy Manaster covers a wide variety of social issues in an intelligent, entertaining, and highly recommended debut novel.
Seth and Alison Collier are teachers who have recently experienced the death of their first child as a newborn. Seth, who is seemingly struggling more with handling his grief than Alison, suggests that they make a complete change of atmosphere to help them deal with their grief. They leave their teaching jobs in Vermont and move to the Commons, an over 55 planned community in outside Tucson, Arizona.
Once they are ensconced in their new positions, we meet some of the residents. Sadie, a recent widow, has her teenage granddaughter, Lily, come to visit. Lily who has come out as gay, has been sent to visit after her school reprimands her over a post on her blog, which features fashion advice for teens. She ends up saving the life of the grandchild secretly living next door with Mona Rosko, a curmudgeonly woman who has been unable to sell her house in the community due to the depressed housing market. The discovery of a child under 55 living in the community makes Mona a target for eviction. Ben Thales, who is a recently divorced retired veterinarian, has his own reasons for spouting off to a news reporter in such a vitriol manner that the clip goes viral, making Ben's mental health a concern for his son and ex-wife.
The pleasure I found in Manaster's novel surprised me. The writing is very good, but the real treasure is her characters. The emotions and inner turmoil of all the characters are handled so deftly and distinctly that I found myself enjoying the novel more and more. They have all the complex emotions, vulnerabilities, and disparate motives of real people, so they are not easily thrown into good/bad categories. They are all people struggling along with events, considering events and their actions based their own personal experiences. Each character is allowed to tell the events from their point of view and we are privy to the reason's they are doing many of the things that others are questioning.
Anyone who has ever lived with a home owner's association full of persnickety despots will totally understand how the rules in the retirement community, while written for a reason, are hard to accept in all situations. Life is never quite that neat and tidy. As a personal aside I once lived in an HOA community where a couple residents on the board were trying to dictate that only a certain kind of rose could be planted, as well as several other rules that were not in the by-laws and thus totally legally unenforceable. This experience did show me how a little power can affect some people, and, more importantly, that they can only be the neighborhood bullies if you allow it. You can say, "No, I will not sign that petition." and life will go on.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Adams Media for review purposes.