Ithaca, by Susan Fish (Storywell, 2014)
When your life revolves around your husband and his work, what do you do when you have to start over? Alone?
Ithaca is a coming-of-age story—for a 59-year-old woman.
Daisy Turner’s husband, Arthur, was a professor at Cornell University. She typed his notes and kept his home. And made soup for a crowd every Wednesday.
They married young, and Daisy found fulfillment as a wife and mother. Now her son works overseas, and she’s a widow. And most of her friends are really Arthur’s friends.
She finds herself developing a friendship with a man who is slowly losing his wife to illness, and with a young woman who’s an environmental activist. Daisy surprises herself—and her son—by signing up for a university course to learn about fracking. She doesn’t know what it is, but the protest signs are everywhere, and she’d like to learn.
There’s so much to appreciate about this novel. Daisy seems quiet and ordinary, but it’s that very ordinariness that connects with readers. She’s candid about her grief, and the struggles it brings. We can identify. As her concern grows about the possible environmental danger from the fracking proposals, we can relate to this polite, reserved, non-activist who’s afraid that by doing nothing she’s surrendering the fight.
Most of us have concerns about some issue or another, and we know that feeling of helplessness. It’s interesting to watch Daisy discover how she fits into the bigger picture, how she can express her concerns in a way that’s true to who she is.
Ultimately, I think that’s what the story is about: finding—and being true to—one’s identity. Prepare to be charmed by Daisy, and by the town of Ithaca, NY, along the way.
Ithaca is a mainstream novel, and certain characters occasionally use mild profanity. Daisy herself was raised in the church, left for a time, but returned as an adult. Her faith shapes her life, but she’s still human and still open to making poor choices, as are we all.
Susan Fish writes beautifully and with an honesty I admire. Here are some of my favourite lines:
I needed the present to hold me very close because the past was threatening to engulf me. [p. 15]
Mondays were the days I stayed in my housecoat and watched hours of television shows, just to hear a human voice. [p. 19]
She carried loaves of bread from the restaurant like she was Miss America and they were her flowers. [p. 20, Daisy, about another friend]
I’m a farmer, Daisy Jane. I save my anger for what really matters. [p. 91: Carmel, the young activist. I love this perspective.]
Susan Fish is a Canadian author and editor as well as the principal of Storywell, an online resource for writers. You can find her blog at susanfishwrites.wordpress.com. If you missed the character interview I did with Daisy Turner, you can read it here.
[Review copy provided by the author.]