The Optimist’s Guide to Letting Go is one of those stories about family dynamics that are awry and how they succeed or fail at working through the secrets, lies, and conflicts that divide them. We have four women from three generations whose emotional connections are messier than a plate of spaghetti.
The oldest is Lorraine, the grande dame who blithely sends an email to her daughters informing them they failed yet again to give her proper Christmas presents. Those daughters are Gina (the disappointment) and Vicky (the lesser disappointment). Gina, who is the axis around whom the story rotates is in mourning for her husband who died less than two years ago, she copes by list-making and presenting a bright-side approach to life that hides her grief. Vicky did all the right things, marrying well and unhappily. The last major character is May, Gina’s daughter who is sinking in a sea of grief, feeling abandoned by her friends who are bored with grief and her mother who can’t or won’t talk about her pain, giving May the impression Gina’s moved on.
When Lorraine has a stroke, though, secrets are reveals, secrets that rewrite their family’s history and their relationship with their mother.
I liked The Optimist’s Guide to Letting Go even though it leaves nothing for the reader to think about. Everything is explained, what people think and feel is told to us, so we never once get to engage fully in trying to understand what motivates people. Even when their motives are explained from their point of view, they can get explained again from the point of view of another, just in case we missed it the first time around. That sort of writing that leaves readers in a passive role, receiving, never interacting annoys me, but I did like the characters as people and wanted things to work out for them.
My favorite moment in the book was when Vicky mocked Gina’s perpetual optimism, saying that maybe life was like a box of chocolates, but sometimes they were all the awful ones with orange cream filling. As a fellow hater of orange cream filling, that made me laugh out loud. And of course, Gina being Gina, said orange cream filling isn’t that bad. So yeah, it is a book that has enjoyable characters who love each other even when they are screwing up. I wish, though, that Reichert trusted readers to think for ourselves.
The Optimist’s Guide to Letting Go will be released on May 15th. I received an e-galley from the publisher through NetGalley.