“The Leisure Seeker” by Michael Zadoorian

Genre: Romantic TragicomedyThe Leisure Seeker
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pub. Date: January 2009

Recently, I watched the 2017 movie “The Leisure Seeker” although the film was syrupy, I enjoyed this feel-good, end-of-life film. I learned that the movie was based on a book, which I decided to read. The novel is grittier and more realistic than the film. Still, it is also a delightful read. The author somehow managed to find the perfect balance of sad and touching moments mixed with the right amount of humor so the book isn’t depressing. Instead, it has a down-to-earth accepting of reality feel with likable and spirited protagonists.

As in the film, the future holds nothing but shorter, bleaker days for both Ella and John Robina. Ella has refused chemotherapy and radiation treatment for her stage four cancer. John suffers from Alzheimer’s. (I guess I should mention here that Ella has promised him that she will never put him in a nursing home or let him be a burden to their family). So, after a lifetime spent worrying about their children, who now have children of their own, they sneak out of their Detroit suburb against their doctors and kids’ wishes for one last trip in their cranky old Winnebago, which they christened “The Leisure Seeker” decades earlier.

They set off on one last final journey. In the film, their destination is Key West, Florida, to allow John to finally visit Ernest Hemingway’s historic home. In the novel, they are headed to Disneyland in California, a place they often took their children when they were young. Disneyland is a better fit for how they lived their lives. The story of their marriage unfolds as they travel. They decide to go the long way via the Route 66. As they travel the famous route, Zadoorian finds many ways to make his readers smile. Such as when they stop at all of 66’s quirky landmarks as well as the endless Route 66 diners, which all display the same photos of Marylyn Monroe and James Dean. While this well-written, character-driven novel is packed with hard truths about a long-married couple heading towards their eventual death, it still manages to be both funny and poignant at the same time. I preferred the novel to the film. But then again I usually do.

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“Secrets of Eden” by Chris Bohjalian

Genre:         Psychological FictionSecrets of Eden
Publisher:    Broadway Books
Pub. Date:   2010

Wanting a quick break from Advanced Review Copies (ARCs), I decided to read a 2010 novel by Chris Bohjailian.  He is one of my preferred authors of page-turners.  In “Midwives,” one of my favorite novels, Bohalian crafts a courtroom drama that investigates an impossible decision made by a midwife who lives in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.   In “The Double Bind,” he weaves together the world of “The Great Gatsby” and the lives of his current day Vermont characters.  This results in a spellbinding tale of tension.   “Eden” is a decent read but doesn’t have the literary chops shown in Bohjalian’s other suspense novels.  It lacks the powerful writing that makes the reader want to read quickly to learn the ending.  Unlike “Midwives” and “Bind,” the characters aren’t intriguing enough to make one want to jump into the book to meet them.

“Eden” is also a psychological thriller that is once again located in rural Vermont.    The author takes on the subject of domestic violence.  We meet a couple in a troubled marriage that ends in an apparent (or was it?) murder-suicide.  This happens soon after the wife is baptized in a river. The story is narrated by the four protagonists:  the town’s reverend, the prosecutor, a female author whose own parents died in a murder-suicide, and the dead couple’s teenage daughter.  The reverend is an interesting character.  The reader is not always sure what to make of him.  I found the prosecutor’s part in the story rather dull and predictable.  “I can tell you that the river Denial is indeed pretty freaking wide.”  There is none of the sophisticated fire of “Midwives.”  The female author, who happens to see angels, is simply an unneeded character.  Can’t figure out why she wasn’t edited out.  Maybe the author wanted to show different thoughts on religious paradise: The Garden of Eden.

However, the orphaned teenage daughter is very well written.  She becomes alive on the page.   It feels as if you are reading a real teen’s diary.  “What it was like to suddenly be an orphan (and I am an orphan) and feel all the time like you’re an imposition….Membership in Club Orphan has its privileges too.”  She could do anything and no one would reprimand her.  “Still, I wouldn’t recommend it.”   Hers is the only voice that allows the author to shine.  In an odd way, the daughter’s irony and wit, combined with her survival instincts, remind me of the females in Bohjailian’s “The Sandcastle Girls.”  That story is about the 1915 Armenian Genocide.  It is filled with the suspense of life and death.  I was mesmerized when I read that one.  My point is that the author’s talent pokes through even in a tale not quite as polished as I know his work can be.

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