Silver Orphan: A Social Novel by Martine Lacombe
With our population of Baby Boomers growing ever-older and the social norms of the following generations creating a society with less room for these aging Americans, many communities in the US face a looming crisis of how to adequately care for the shifting demographics of their populations. This trend of seeing elderly folks without next of kin willing/able to provide such support has created an ever-enlarging segment of our population, dubbed “silver orphans” by sociologists. This emerging predicament forms the basis for Martine Lacombe’s first novel, Silver Orphan: A Social Novel.
While I’m not sure why Lacombe chose to include “A Social Novel” as a part of her title, as there are currently many authors attempting to address social issues through their fiction, I do appreciate her tackling a problem that is just emerging within our society. Recently, many authors have undertaken writing about tough issues such as bullying and school violence, but Lacombe comes out ahead of the crowd, bringing to light a problem that isn’t making the bold-faced headlines yet, but will be soon.
Brooke Blake is immediately introduced to the reader as the lead character (I hesitate to call her protagonist, as her personality is off-putting enough to not want to use “pro” anywhere near her name), whose life quickly becomes interwoven with Frank, an octogenarian who needs some support. This is the first place that I struggled a bit with the story-telling, as after a rather lengthy introduction to Brooke as a high-paid pharmaceutical rep with shoes that cost more than I make in a day and a cold demeanor meant to put all in their place, I had a hard time suspending believe enough to imagine that she would actually pull over for a random hitchhiker, then not only take him home, but become a part of his life. The idea of someone coming into Frank’s life to be a support and then push his story beyond his death is a great outline for a story, but I just don’t find Brooke believable in this role. The jump from her character in the first ten pages to her character just thirty pages later is too far for me.
Beyond the far-fetched connection of these two characters, the other aspect of Silver Orphan that I struggled with was the sometimes halting dialog. When Lacombe is telling the story from the narrator’s point of view, the writing is smooth and, at times, even poetic, but once she is forced to put words into the mouths of characters, something in the flow is lost.
The multi-layered settings of the book create one of the high points of the novel, as Lacombe braids together stories from the current time, the recent past, the WWII era and the height of the Italian immigration. History that is often glossed over by textbooks is uncovered throughout the book, making the novel a mini-social studies class, thanks to Frank’s genealogy. There are times that the historical references seem a bit forced (I have to admit to still being confused about why the tale of Orson Well’s War of the Worlds is included), but this novel could find a place as a companion novel in a high school history classroom.
Without giving the ending away, I did feel like it came a bit out of left-field and has me closing the book with some lingering questions, not about the main plot line of the book, but about new twists that were introduced on the final page. I am finding it hard to assign a final score to this book, as the novel was given to me for free in return for a book review, but there are revisions I think the story needs to go through before it is great. (My hesitation comes from the fact that I would love to be more active in the review of book galley copies, but my first one is not overflowing with praise, which may turn off other authors.) Martine Lacombe’s soon-to-be-published first novel is just that- a first novel. It is a great start for a young author and I am excited to see what social issues she will tackle in her next book. This book isn’t going to fall into my top 10 of 2013 list, but I like where Lacombe is headed with her writing and will definitely be watching and waiting for her sophomore publication! Silver Orphan: A Social Novel by Martine Lacombe earns: