Fiction Helen Yglesias Girls

ISBN 13: 9781883285166

Girls

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9781883285166: Girls

At eighty, Jenny is the baby, the youngest of four surviving sisters of a large Jewish family, the Witkovskys. She has reluctantly left New England, which she loves, to travel to Miami (she thinks of it as "Their-ami"), summoned by her eccentric sister Flora, who at eighty-five still chases men. Their sister Naomi is dying of cancer at ninety, and Eva is fading away simply because she is ninetyfive. The sisters quarrel as they always did, railing at and forgiving each other. Even so, "Why can't we live forever?" one of them asks.

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From the Publisher:

Helen Yglesias has been uniformly praised by reviewers of her previous novels for her unerring sense of character, her elegance, delicacy, and humor, her consummate craftsmanship, and her incomparable ear for dialogue. All these qualities are fully on display in The Girls, the story of four sisters in their eighties and nineties.

As the novel begins, Jenny, the "baby" at eighty, has flown to Miami--that fantastic mix of generations and ethnicities--to care for her two oldest sisters, Eva and Naomi, who are frail and failing. The third sister, Flora, eighty-five, is an extravagant personality with not much of a head for the hard practical decisions facing Eva and Naomi, though she does a priceless standup routine on the Miami senior circuit.

Contemporary fiction, like the movies, shows us almost nothing about the lives of the old, and especially old women, who, if they appear at all, are either kindly grandmothers or crones. Yglesias's great achievement in The Girls is to give us four beautifully realized women just like everyone else, with all their pettiness and foibles and passions and nobility, intent on life even as life ebbs, as eager for the next joke or glass of wine or love affair or trip to the mall as any teenager. "Why can't love last forever?" Jenny asks herself as she thinks back on the past. "Why can't we live forever?"

The plot of The Girls is simple. What will happen to Eva and Naomi? Will they or won't they have to go to a nursing home? Not much suspense there, and one compelling point of the story is to dramatize the cramped and visionless options our nation has devised for the keeping and hiding of the old. But that isn't the main interest of the book, which lies in Jenny's unflinching gaze, at her sister's old age and her own. Without shrinking from the infirmities of age, Yglesias always finds the humor and humanity in her characters and their dilemmas.

Why should anyone want to read a book about four old ladies? Well, for that matter, why should anyone want to read a book about a big white whale? It's all in the telling, and The Girls is exquisitely told, by a master. Moreover, it is a book that will strike a resonant chord with the huge generation of baby boomers now watching their parents and older relatives face the challenge of aging with dignity.

We live, we grow old, we die. It's natural, it's as it should be, and yet Jenny's question rings out: Why can't we live forever? The Girls does not answer that question, it only poses it, as the finest fiction does, and leaves it echoing hauntingly, beautifully, in the mind.

From the Inside Flap:

These days the news is full of reports about the graying of America, yet it's rare that old people appear in contemporary fiction except as stock characters--the indulgent grandmother, the wicked witch. In her first novel in a dozen years, the acclaimed author of How She Died and Sweetsir gives us four grand old ladies, sisters, each unique and indelibly real, in a poignant and very funny story about the last American taboos, old age and dying.

As the novel opens, Jenny, the youngest at eighty, has flown down to Miami--that gaudy, pastel-hued haven of the elderly--to look after her two failing oldest sisters: Eva, ninety-five, always the family mainstay, and Naomi, ninety, who is riddled with cancer but still has her tart tongue and her jet-black head of hair. The fourth sister, Flora, has jet-black hair too, straight out of the bottle, but no head for the hard decisions facing Eva and Naomi. An energetic eighty-five, Flora spends her time dating ("He's mad about me, I only hope he can get it up!") and making the rounds of the retirement homes with her standup routine, the Sandra Bernhard of the senior set.

The Girls gives us these four full-if-wrinkled-fleshed women with all their complaints and foibles, their self-absorption and downright orneriness, their unquenchable humor and immense, immense courage. Aches and pains, wrinkles and hearing aids, wheelchairs and walkers--out of these, and out of the human spirit in its aging body, Helen Yglesias has fashioned a novel that moves us and opens our eyes and makes us laugh out loud.

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