Thursday, January 8, 2015

Lillian on Life, by Alison Jean Lester

Putnam Adult, ISBN 9780399168895, January 2015

Lillian is born in Missouri in 1933, and lives a life that takes her to Europe, the growing sexual freedom of the post-World War II years, the loss of the love of her life, the loss of her parents. Some of that may sound a bit grim, but Lillian chooses to enjoy life. The "now" of the book is the early 1990s, as Lillian in her sixties reflects on her life.

She tells her story in her own voice, and in an episodic, nonlinear way. Each chapter reflects on one period of her life, one life lesson or formative experience. First boyfriend, first sexual experience, first time living with a man. Attending Vassar, and discovering through her education major assistant teaching stints that she loves caring for toddlers--but not necessarily even slightly older children. The tensions between her and her mother, and the closer connection to her father.

There are some oddities in what's included and what isn't. World War II seems to have made almost no impression on her at all. Early on, we get an account of her fussy, smell-extinguishing house-keeping--which is an early revelation of her personal fastidiousness throughout her life. The tone of the whole book is casual, conversational, reflective, and it's a relatively quick, relaxing read.

Clear warning: There is no plot. That's not a problem with the book; it's the kind of book it is. But if you like a good, tight plot, this is not your next favorite book.

In the end, I couldn't quite warm to Lillian as much as I would have wished, but I think many other readers will. There's a lot to like, and Lester's writing style is engaging.

Recommended with some reservations.

I received a free electronic galley of this book from Penguin via their First to Read program.