Some books you just don’t want to end; Tracy Manaster’s You Could Be Home By Now is one of those books.
Set primarily in a retirement community (permanent residents must be 55+), You Could Be Home By Now follows several sets of characters whose lives intertwine in unusual, touching, and humorous fashions.
The story begins with Seth and Alison Collier, two teachers who are trying to survive the death of their newborn by any means possible—including reading and quoting numerous reference guides on grief and mourning. The books tell them “Treat mourning as a sacred process. Put off major decisions for at least a year.” So they polish their résumés and take new jobs halfway across the county at The Commons, a luxury retirement community in Arizona.
Another pair at the Commons is Lily and her Gran. Gran is, of course, the permanent resident; Lily is her lesbian granddaughter who has been banished to the senior community for the summer because of an incident related to her fashion blog.
The book includes several interesting themes and develops them nicely. There’s a subtlety to the telling, with no didactic, heavy-handed moments. One theme: perception versus reality. The book has moments full of pretense often followed by the most candid of scenes (or vice versa). For example, despite the mortgage crisis, the Commons doesn’t allow For Sale signs in yards. Alison and Seth learn early on: “The HOA doesn’t allow them. Messes with the neighbors’ heads.”
A few pages later, Lily’s assessment of senior yoga is much more candid: “Gran was off at yoga. She’d invited Lily to tag along, but a dozen old-lady butts in Downward-Facing Dog? Thanks, but no.”
Manaster continues this theme in a chapter that revolves around Facebook. Seth goes off on a rant and leaves gut-checkingly honest but completely inappropriate responses to other people’s good news. A friend posts about his twin babies and the resulting lack of sleep, and Seth responds “You poor thing… Alison and I slept BEAUTIFULLY last night. Peace and quiet at any cost!” To his former college roommate who just announced he and his wife are expecting a baby boy (and posted the sonogram picture), Seth writes “Wow, I didn’t even know the two of you got married. Your son looks like mine did before he died.”
Alison’s Facebook page, on the other hand, has pictures of sunsets, posts about her jogging habits, and a review of a taqueria.
The threat of reality leaves everyone searching for a place to belong, a place to be truly home, a place that’s safe. And it also brings in another one of the major plotlines: Mona Rosko thought she had a home in the Commons. Like so many other characters, though, she has a secret: a grandchild who has been living with her for months. A weird accident brings this secret to light, and whether or not Mona should have to move (for breaking one of the HOA’s rules) and the resulting complications—Lily unwittingly outed Mona and her grandchild—provide much of the tension in the story.
Another unique twist or theme is that many of the characters are presented in pairs or as part of a couple, yet most of these relationships feel incomplete. Seth and Alison are without their baby Timothy. Gran and Lily are missing a husband/grandfather. Mona and her grandson are missing a daughter/mother. Another man and his ex-wife are missing a daughter who vanished years ago.
The story moves at a good clip, and Manaster is the rare author that finds the almost always elusive balance between plot and character. The plotlines—dealing with loss, trying to work with an unusual boss, keeping a faltering marriage alive, figuring out who your friends really are (which, let’s face it, is something akin to life or death for a teenager)—are numerous, but they all work. Plus they work without making the characters secondary.
There’s a realness and often a likability to these characters. It’s impossible not to pull for Seth and Alison and not to want their marriage to survive. It’s hard not to like Lily—obnoxious little smart ass that she is—even when she does run someone over with a golf cart (the only mode of motorized transportation allowed in the Commons). Gran is the almost too perfect 21st century grandmother—she cuts fruit beautifully, spoils Lily by giving her internet access (which Lily’s parents didn’t want her to have), and is more than ready to defend Lily’s sexual orientation.
The story also ends well—some journeys are continuing, some are over, some questions are answered, and some are not. Perhaps most importantly, there’s a sense of hope that these characters will find what they are looking for. It’s just hard not to close this book with a bit of a sigh and a wish that we could be there when they do.