Tuesday, February 28, 2017

All the News I Need

All the News I Need by Joan Frank
University of Massachusetts Press: 1/17/17
trade paperback; 168 pages
ISBN-13: 9781625342621

All the News I Need by Joan Frank is the story of two friends by default who rail against aging and loss, and decide to take a trip to Paris together that instigates changes in their lives.

Oliver (Ollie) Gaffney is a 62 year-old gay man who lives in San Francisco. He is shy, lonely, awkward with others, and subject to panic attacks. Frances (Fran) Ferguson is a 58 year-old widow who lives in the wine country. She is foul-mouthed, sharp-tongued, hard-drinking, and also lonely since her husband Kirk passed away. Kirk was the connection between Ollie and Fran. Now they are both lonely. After all they have both been through, Fran regards Ollie as her brother now. "A dear, good, mad, exasperating, f***ed-up, insoluble brother."

They both have experienced the pain of loss and feel their age creeping up. Even though they both appreciate their set routines, they also feel like life might be passing them by and all they have left is a slow march toward death. Fran insists that the two take a trip together to Paris. She is sure it will be good for both of them. And, in an odd way, this is true.

Frank won the 2016 Juniper Prize for Fiction from the University of Massachusetts Press in this story that examines aging, friendship, loss, and regret. "Because of course she feels what he feels.... People their age natter along not copping to it but the awareness is billboarded all over their faces - a wavering, a hesitation, even those who used to crow and jab the air. The tablecloth of certainty, with all its sparkly settings, has been yanked, and not artfully. It's why people drink."

First I need to get this off my chest: I didn't like this novel at all for most of the book. Good grief, 58 and 62 aren't all that old anymore. If it is, then I guess I'm on the cusp of my dotage - not bloody likely. I sort of think, personally, that Ollie and Fran need to snap out of it and get a life. And the short, choppy sentences, especially at the first chapter, drove me bananas.

Then I hit Ollie's visit with Fran, and, while I still didn't care for either of these characters, I was at least wondering where this would go. But, when Frank introduced the rules for aging Ollie and Fran devised, I was amused and intrigued. I still didn't think either of them should remotely be thinking of themselves as having one foot in the grave and have all of their attention focused on aging. There is something to be said for living your life on your terms.

Frank had a arduous challenge to win over this reviewer, however, when I reached the end of the novel, I became a fan. The conclusion was brilliant. Is is so brilliant, it appeased my earlier displeasure. All the elements of the plot came together resulting in a sense of completeness. After pulling this off, I can say beyond a doubt that Frank is a brilliant writer. She managed to transcend the ordinary in the creation of two very different, realistic characters. I was surprised at how I tilted from strongly disliking All the News I Need to highly recommending it. This is one you have to read to the end.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the University of Massachusetts Press for TLC.  


Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

Wow, the ending of this book must be really incredible to have won you over so thoroughly after all your initial misgivings!

Thanks for being a part of the tour.

Debra Eliotseats said...

I had very similar feelings about the novel. I didn't make final decision until the end either.