“The Love Story of Missy Carmichael” by Beth Morrey. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2020. 339 pages, $26 (hardcover).
Missy Carmichael is estranged from her daughter, and her son and grandson live in Australia. Her great love is gone, and she feels so alone in a big house, all by herself, at 79. She spends her days cleaning, reliving her past, looking at her mistakes and sometimes having a sip of sherry. However, when she randomly decides to go to an event in the park, she meets two strangers who will connect her with a spirited dog, and together they will show her just what she is missing, the life she has left to live and all the love she has to offer.
Not usually a book I would pick up myself, I am so glad it was sent to me to review. I’ve decided I rather love these types of stories. This is a love story that isn’t so much about romance, but the love you can have for family and friends. It is such a beautiful novel about the loneliness you can feel and how trapped you may become in it. Although I am not 79, nor close to it, I think this book can speak to those of any age who feel lost, alone and trapped in their past. Missy doesn’t know where to turn, or even that she can ask for help.
As I mentioned, while this does tell the great love story of Missy and her husband, it is not necessarily a “love story.” It is the great love of friendship and family that takes focus here. Friendship is something I wish I saw more often in novels as the focus of the story, and I love how well done it was here. These were not people you would have picked out for one another, but they certainly love one another. It highlights how a community can come together as well, and how it is possible to help each other out.
An invitation to coffee from a random stranger is what changes Missy’s direction. It’s amazing how such a small act had such a large impact. So often we forget or are wary of strangers, and for good reason. Ultimately though, I think we’ve lost some of our ability to make random human connections, and it makes me sad. I would have a hard time inviting someone to coffee that I didn’t know. Maybe, when life is a little back to normal, it’ll be something I work on.
It was a little hard to get into this book at first. It’s hard to have sympathy or much like for Missy at the very beginning, but as you start to learn more about her and her past, you begin to understand her better. It isn’t until the very end that you really get an appreciation for everything she has gone through and what it has done to her. It also shows that we make sacrifices for love that perhaps we shouldn’t, but we all deal with those in various ways. Missy had her own way to deal with what she lost, and I felt that the way the author explored that was a perfect example of coping. On the flip side of that, Missy stops coping at this point in her life and instead is just basically existing (I suppose its own kind of coping).
Maybe what helps this book so much is all the unexpected happiness that comes along, and the joy in the small things that Missy realizes she has been overlooking. Missy is depressed in the beginning and has to be pulled from her shell (not that it works for everyone who is depressed, nor am I saying it should). She has become so lonely that she feels awkward even talking to others or seeking them out. It is so great that a dog and a little kid are the ones who help her. They have no social barriers or qualms at talking to and helping others. That in itself is something we need to remember from time to time.
What is the proper thing to do is also challenged in this novel – because that so often depends on the situation. Missy must also confront her own biases and beliefs, especially when it comes to her daughter. The fight she had with her daughter is something you learn about slowly, and once you do, it becomes clear that Missy is trying to work through something that has been ingrained in her, but that she must fight. The book also has a lesbian couple, and Missy works through her thoughts and feelings on this, proving that you can change how you feel.
Missy’s relationship with her daughter is rocky for so many reasons, and as the book explores that you learn more about both – and why Missy seems to favor her son. It doesn’t excuse the behavior, but it is interesting to explore such dynamics in a family. It is mentioned once that Missy and her daughter, Melanie, are very much alike. It seems that parents and children who share too many traits often clash. Exploring the ups and downs of that relationship, and how her husband Leo played into it, helps move the story along and Missy to explore her own issues and mistakes as well. As a note, hearing about the “terrible fight” many times before it was ever explained did get a little irritating, but was easily overcome.
There is an unexpected twist in this novel toward the end. It is something I thought might be true while reading it, but I didn’t have enough information to be certain. It highlights a whole new challenge to growing old, and what those in some relationships have to deal with or the choices they might have to make. I think it is also important that all of these conversations are had between couples, friends and family, so everyone can be on the same page as well. I also kept thinking about this novel long after I closed it, and instantly insisted a friend had to borrow it and read it, too.
– Reviewed by Fallon Willoughby, first-year experience instructor, Southcentral Kentucky Community & Technical College.