A Funny Kind of Paradise by Jo Owens
Though I’m a loyal library patron and rarely spend money on books, when I spotted the Bookbub feature deal for this, I had to scoop it up!
After a lifetime of single motherhood and entrepreneurship, Francesca has earned a peaceful retirement, but when a massive stroke leaves her totally dependent on others, her freedom seems lost.
Though unable to speak and partially paralyzed, Francesca maintains her sharp wit and sharper opinions. Unable to communicate with the living, she speaks her mind to her long-lost friend, Anna. Amidst the indignities of sponge baths and diaper changes, Francesca is surprised to discover that she wants to live. The magnificent magnolia tree outside her window and the dramas of the rotating crew of personal care attendants keep her invested in life. Within the misery of the dying, she finds flashes of hilarity and joy.
As she reflects on her experiences to Anna, she can’t help drawing connections to her past choices, her past mistakes. For once, she can’t hide in work. She must reconcile with herself, her son, and with the daughter who never listened.
Francesca is a fantastically deep character whose responses to life’s challenges shaped her life in ways she could only recognize once her stroke forced her to slow down. At once sharp and caring, bitter and remorseful, stubborn and compassionate, Francesca captures the entire range of the human experience, all while remaining consistent with her own personality.
The other characters—her children, her care aides, the other patients—make for a delightfully quirky and diverse cast. Since Francesca cannot speak, her care aides confide in her, and she learns to care for them as much as they do her.
This book is about as far from a plot-driven storyline as possible. Some may argue it has no plot, but the story melds Francesca’s reflections on her past with her investment in her care aides’ lives. If you’re looking for a goal-driven, action-packed story, look elsewhere, but I felt the drama and gradually revealed backstory was enough to pull me through the book.
Owens writes with the same pragmatism as her character—no lofty descriptions, but not blunt either. Overall, the prose flows well and the book is well edited.
The author worked in an extended care facility, and her experience shines through the story. She acknowledges the slight inaccuracies in her portrayal, and as someone who has worked in such a facility, I concur. For example, most modern facilities are trending toward private rooms, and the care aides wouldn’t discuss other patients around Francesca. What inaccuracies there are, however, serve the story well. I think they were necessary, and I will happily allow the author creative license in this case.
A Funny Kind of Paradise is a heart-warming and heart-breaking story of one woman’s coming terms with her past as she prepares for the end of life. Owens provides readers with an inside look into life in an extended care facility—the good, the bad, the ugly, and the hilarious. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and heartily recommend it.
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