Monday, February 23, 2015

Florence Gordon is this Decade's Olive Kitteridge

Brian Morton is not a household name among readers. What a shame. The man teaches at NYU and directs the writing program at Sarah Lawrence College. Based upon my reading of his latest novel, "Florence Gordon," he must be very talented at what he does. It can't be easy to write a difficult woman but Florence is perfect. She's a combination of my favorite crank from Louise Penny's Three Pines, the poet Ruth, and the very difficult and misunderstood Olive K.

Florence Gordon
When I get together with some of my more honest friends over a few glasses of wine, (you know who you are), I find that we will admit to each other that we don't really like people as much as we used to. Or, perhaps it's more that we no longer feel we have to suffer fools gladly. Life's just too short and we've been around long enough to speak the truth. And so it is that, if you trust me, you'll find that 75-year-old Florence, a feminist product of the fifties, spurred on by the Friedan/Steinem movement, is a woman you'll recognize as a kindred spirit and enjoy spending time with.
Florence Gordon, though renowned in women's studies programs, is also not a household name, until, that is, her memoir is reviewed on the front page of the "New York Time Book Review." Will celebrity change Florence her son and daughter-in-law ask? Suddenly a household name, she finds that she needs an assistant to help her schedule the book tour and the speaking engagements while guarding her much needed privacy. Is her seemingly aimless, college drop-out of a granddaughter, up to the task?
Morton deftly paints the difficult relationship but growing understanding between the curmudgeonly luddite Florence and her 21st century, tweeting, blogging, granddaughter Emily. Florence, much like myself, worries that the younger generation of women have no sense of the rights they stand to lose if they don't learn from the battles of those who have come before.
But Emily is more perspicacious than Florence gives her credit for and, in a great scene, Emily recognizes her grandmother's chutzpah as she storms into the center of a Manhattan street with a crowd of like-minded protesters.
There are many laugh out loud chapters in Morton's novel even though the themes are deeply serious. I happily watched Florence put rude people in their places, hanging up on her doctor's secretary who kept her on hold just a second too long, or counseling an overwhelmed young mother who moonlights as an author escort in order to flog a memoir written before she's even begun to live.
This is a novel about a fiercely independent woman, one who loves her family but finds that she has little in common with them. She is a woman who has made a satisfying, fulfilling life on her own terms. She is a woman who has used her intellect to write passionately about injustice over the span of a fifty year career without compromise. To some, an opinionated woman like Florence Gordon is a threat. To me, she is an icon.


Ellen O'Donoghue said...

Hi Sally! Greetings from the west... I'm catching up on your awesome blog and adding all of these titles to my list! Just wanted to comment that I LOVED "Olive Kitteridge" so "Florence Gordon" will be coming home with me ASAP...
and I miss you! I'll be visiting Florida in April and should have a night to visit SC or maybe grab some dinner/drinks. Hope to see you!! if possible :)

Linda said...

I'm adding this one to my list. By the way, I can't imagine anyone you drink wine with who has begun to dislike people. (Did I ever like them?)