Title: Freefall: A Divine Comedy
Author: Lily Iona MacKenzie
Publisher: Pen-L Publishing
Publication date: January 1, 2019
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Humor
Summary: Nearly 60, installation artist Tillie Bloom reunites with her three friends: Sybil, Daddy, and Moll. They converge on Sybil’s vacation home in Whistler, British Columbia after spending years apart, letting time and distance get in the way of their friendship. Faced with turning 60, they reflect on their coming of age in the ’50s and ’60s, discover what each has been up to over the years, and come face to face with a bear and survive, more or less, to tell the tale. As their reunion closes, Tillie manages to convince them to travel with her to Venice, Italy for the Biennale, hoping to find greater exposure for her art. What she and her friends find, though, ends up being a deeper understanding of themselves and each other.
I wanted so badly to understand and fall madly in love with this novel. I think I might be about 30 years too young to fully appreciate it. That isn’t to say it’s only for people around age 60, but I, in my early thirties, struggled to identify with the characters. Still, I thought it was lovely and a lot of fun. The four women are just so full of life that it’s hard to not find enjoyment reading this.
Overall, this novel felt like a reflection of lives lived. According to my favorite developmental psychologist, Erik Erikson, there comes a stage where adults reflect on their lives and feel they’ve either accomplished something worthwhile or not. I very much feel that is where this novel falls. For Tillie, she’s still trying to make it as an artist, but still spends much of the novel reflecting on her life, of how people have come and gone. She’s still looking forward to the future despite the threat of death hanging over her head. Her friends, though, have lived full or not so full lives. Daddy especially was all over the map while Moll was the exactly opposite with a very settled family life. They didn’t so much reflect in the same manner as Tillie necessarily, but seemed to spend their time reclaiming their youth. It made me feel like they weren’t completely satisfied with their lives, and much of how they talked about it fell in line with that, so were trying to break out of the chains of marriage and family in order to find their own again.
There’s a lot of flipping back to the past throughout the novel. During the first half, it was done in full chapters. In the second half, it was more often than not due to something happening in Tillie’s life that prompted a memory. I liked that it put the ladies into context, expanded their characters, and made them feel like living, breathing people. But most of it was confined to the ’50s and ’60s with some of the memories encompassing the more recent years. I would have appreciated more of a spread to really understand where each lady came from. It felt like a leap from late teen to early twenty wild young women to nearly 60 women with burdens from lives lived and death around the corner.
I did love, though, that all four ladies were quite spry. Sybil’s health was a little concerning, but she never let it get in her way. Despite being almost 60, they somehow managed to recapture their youth. Of course, age imposed some limitations, but they pushed through and almost felt like they could be my age. It was so convincing that it was jarring when their age came into play. I like to think all four of them were interesting and fun, but I really struggled to identify with them. Their experiences were fun to read about, but ended up being little more than entertainment to me. Still, I hope to be just as energetic when I’m their age.
Interwoven with the primary story of Tillie and her art, and alongside her friendship with the other three ladies, was commentary on some aspects of society, including feminism and religion. I appreciated it, especially the feminism pieces as they stretched back in time, but I also felt they were a little repetitive. Tillie mentioned several similar thoughts regarding religion in the last quarter of the book. Sometimes I became a little confused as to why it was being repeated so much and felt I had already read it. Perhaps a comment on forgetfulness as one ages? I was also disappointed when the commentary on religion overtook that of feminism. Of course, Tillie’s, er, liaison, with a priest probably had something to do with it. I prefer not to say more, but something about that relationship made me feel uncomfortable, though it did make perfect sense in the story. Perhaps I’m just not the free spirit Tillie is, and I have much work to do in my next 30 years.
Finally, I feel I must mention the overabundance of sex. Don’t worry; this isn’t a novel about geriatric sex! The ladies are all very sexual creatures. I suppose it might be because they’re products of the ’50s and ’60s? It was a little disconcerting, but, put into context, it was easier to swallow. I did appreciate that the author did drop in reminders about age as well as the pros and cons of aging and sex.
Overall, this was a thought-provoking novel with plenty of material to reflect on. The story itself felt a little simple and I was a little disappointed when Tillie’s friends took a backseat to the priest, not to mention how the novel ended, but I suppose this isn’t so much a book about a group of friends as it is a novel about one woman’s journey. The friends were just bonuses, but I was riveted by them. Sybil in particular came to life for me, so I was disappointed when I couldn’t even connect to her. I was just amused by her. Still, it offers plenty to think about, especially as we move on in years and reach those golden ages when we’ve lived full or not so full lives and death becomes a greater part of life. It was almost disturbing how death hung over the book, but it was something very real for Tillie and her friends. It helped put things into perspective, and I can’t help but wonder if I’ll have similar thoughts in 30 years. And is it too much to hope for that I’ll be just as energetic at that age?
How many cups of tea will you need?
This is a tough one. Perhaps someone of the right age might think this is a 5 cups of tea, but, personally, it felt more like a 4 cups of tea book.
Get your copy (The Lily Cafe is NOT an Amazon Affiliate)
Thank you to the author, Lily Iona Mackenzie, for a free e-copy. All opinions expressed are my own.
Check out my other book reviews over at the Bookshelf.