How do you give a five-star review to a story as sad as The Forgotten Life of Eva Gordon? You do it because it’s true to life and beautifully told by a gifted writer.
Eva is not the sweet old grandmother you go to visit at Thanksgiving. Cranky and suffering from dementia, she longs to return home to Cape Cod, the scene of a hypercritical father, a broken marriage, and fractured relationships with her two children. Eva keeps her suitcase packed for repeated escape attempts from her granddaughter’s home, in the hope of recapturing the illusion of happiness.
With astonishing skill, author Linda MacKillop gives us a poignant window into a mind that “didn’t always work correctly, but functioned in many ways like a congested highway in need of a traffic cop.” Eva leaves post-it notes around the house to remind her how to perform such mundane duties as brewing coffee or operating the dishwasher.
Eva’s preoccupation with the past mingles with the present so that she often cannot remember where she is or how she got there. Fortunately, her granddaughter Breezy patiently tracks her down and leads her back home—until the next escape attempt.
Eva’s nostalgia for the past extends to old furniture. On good days she passes the time sanding and varnishing castoff heirlooms in the hope that someone will want them, just as she yearns to remake herself into a better version of the woman who drove away her husband and son. Her unresolved conflicts rise up to fire angry words at long-gone adversaries, only to strike the people trying to help her.
Countering the novel’s gloomy atmosphere is a collection of delightful characters including Mabel, a tenant who watches over Eva while Breezy works as a schoolteacher. Mabel drags Eva to the funerals of strangers whose names she finds in newspaper obituaries, just to make sure they get a proper send-off. Isabella, an insecure young caregiver, works with Eva to prepare for Breezy’s impending marriage. The groom, Ian, is a kindly young man restoring an old farmhouse with the help of George, an illiterate ex-convict. Both do their best to make Eva feel welcome.
Though it may sound depressing, The Forgotten Life of Eva Gordon is full of endearing characters including passing strangers who go out of their way to be helpful to a soul transitioning to a new way of life. This debut novel is a joy for readers eager to dive into the lives of people they can identify with. It contains no offensive language or sex.