Having read fantasy and romance from DeFino, I wondered how a straight up fiction novel of hers would be. I know that DeFino dislikes being pigeon holed into genres since she sees so many books falling into more than one. Which is exactly the case with The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers. In fact, her straight up fiction book has both romance and fantasy neatly inserted within its pages.
Set in, yes, (you guessed it), Bar Harbor at, yes, (you’re right again), a retirement home for aging writers, DeFino quickly introduces a cast of diverse and thoroughly developed characters. Of the writers, there is Alfonse, a sort of elderly Dos Equis man, the most famous of the authors. Then, there is Olivia, his ex-lover and quick-witted marijuana smoker; Judi, the group stenographer who laments the realization of her increasing dementia, and Switch, the taciturn, good hearted spoil sport. On the employee side, there is Dr. Kintz, kind and flustered, as he tries to manage these aging autocrats as well as his trove of damaged employees. And, Cecibel, the physically marred orderly who becomes Alfonse’s muse; Sal, the massive black nurse who moonlights as Wispy Flicker, the drag queen; and, Fin, the convicted murderer. Yep, I have that right.
As his last hurrah, inspired by Cecibel, Alfonse begins writing his final novel. It becomes a group project as the authors each take their turns adding to the story. How it evolves and ends and how all these characters interact with one another is part of this story’s magic. And, true to her roots, DeFino works in bits of romance and fantasy. There is a dream like quality to the relationship between Alfonse and Cecibel which goes well beyond patient and caregiver. At first, I was a little unnerved by the sensuality between these two, but DeFino’s writing simply exposes love that exists in places we often fail to look. And, also, who’s to judge what’s appropriate when it comes to love better than the lovers themselves?
DeFino’s timing between the story unfolding at the retirement home and the one that the authors are writing is pitch perfect. Just as you’re about to reach the cathartic moments in each story, she switches you to the other such that you have to keep reading to find out what happened in the previous plot line.
DeFino’s “jump” to fiction is seamless because it really wasn’t a jump at all. She brings together the best of her different story telling techniques to yield a lovely book that addresses dark issues but leaves the reader feeling hopeful and filled with love.
The retirement home for aging writers is a figment of DeFino’s imagination but I can picture it perfectly and hope that maybe, at some point in the future, there might actually be such a place.
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Elizabeth's rating: 4 stars