Geographies of the Heart

Geographies of the Heart by Caitlin Hamilton Summie is a beautiful and all-too recognizable story about family, love, and aging.

Told as a series of short stories (some previously published as standalone pieces), Geographies of the Heart traces four generations of the Macmillan family. Each chapter or story is told from a different perspective, centering issues of viewpoint, empathy, and one’s personal history. Hamilton Summie illuminates through each character’s perspective how these elements inform the way a person acts, interacts, and responds to the challenges life throws at them. 

The main character of the three perspectives is Sarah Macmillan. We meet Sarah in a college coffee shop on a first date with a (maybe) great catch. We follow Sarah through breakups, her marriage to this same coffee shop date, the birth of her first child, the death of her grandparents, and through the challenges of navigating family relationships within and outside of these life events. Over the course of Geographies of the Heart, we also hear from her husband Al, her sister Glennie, and even a few others.

Hamilton Summie does a beautiful job of capturing not only the struggles of what it means to be a family, but also the most beautiful and touching pieces of that relationship. Even as someone who doesn’t have a sister, who hasn’t lost a grandparent in the same slow grueling way Sarah does, I found myself deeply connected to her character, her struggles, her constant questioning. Themes of forgiveness, remembrance, our connection to our past—however desirous or repelling to us— are only a few of the topics explored in Geographies of the Heart. Hamilton Summie also asks readers to question what responsibility in each of these contexts mean: who is responsible for initiating and accepting forgiveness, who is responsible for remembering and documenting a collective past that involves more that just one person, and who is responsible for the marks (for better or worse) left on a generation as they age? 

A thought-provoking and emotional read, Geographies of the Heart might especially call to you if you are a parent, a sibling, or have recently lost a loved one.

Published by Fomite Press in January 2022, Geographies of the Heart by Caitlin Hamilton Summie is available for purchase at your local independent bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘The Book of Old Ladies’ by Ruth O. Saxton

What does it mean to age? To be old? Particularly, what does it mean to confront old age as a woman? How have the peculiarities and challenges faced by women changed (if at all) over time? 

The Book of Old Ladies: Celebrating Women of a Certain Age In Fiction by Dr. Ruth O. Saxton seeks to answer these questions and rectify the, somehow, universally held ideas about women, and more specifically older women. Namely that women are defined by their romantic relationships; that they inherently seek to be wives, mothers, and caregivers; and that their artistic or personal passions are second to their roles as women.

Saxton takes a look at thirty different novels and short stories with older women as the central characters to analyze how the writers of these works handle aging and end of life issues. In each section, Sexton provides an in-depth analysis of a story, parsing out the characters’ motives, how their lives differ (or not) from the given stereotypes about aging women, and how the stories and characters fit into the larger, collective narrative of women as we know it. 

An essential piece of non-fiction, The Book of Old Ladies draws attention not only to the works highlighted, but to the overarching issue of our society’s provincial view of women in old age. Saxton brings to life characters who are so far from the narrow-minded perception of the old bag, the lonely widower, and the crazy old lady to name a few. Further, Saxton creates a sense of urgency to both read the fiction she features and to champion the older women of our generation who are living these fictions daily.

Even if you haven’t read the books and stories Saxton focuses on, each chapter and section is still captivating and, by the end, almost makes you feel as if you have read the book or story discussed. That being said, reading the analyses of the works I had read was by far the more enjoyable reading experience of the book. If anything, Saxton creates a reading list for every reader!

Eye opening, heartbreaking, and thoroughly thought-provoking, The Book of Old Ladies by Ruth O. Saxton comes highly recommended to all readers no matter their age, gender, or beliefs.

Slated for release from She Writes Press in September 2020, you can preorder a copy of The Book of Old Ladies: Celebrating Women of a Certain Age In Fiction at your local independent bookstore.

Read more non-fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.