A friend of mine read this book by Kathleen Rooney a year or two ago and it sounded like the kind of thing that would be right up my alley. Of course, I never got around to reading it, but this year Book Riot challenged me to read a book with a female main character over the age of 60. I think this one counts because it’s about 85-year-old Lillian Boxfish looking back on her life as she wanders around New York City on New Year’s Eve, 1984.
In the 1930s, Lillian worked as an ad copywriter for Macy’s, at one point earning the status of most highly paid woman in advertising. Throughout the book, Lillian tells the reader about her time at Macy’s, as well as how she met her husband (who also worked at Macy’s), had children, and suffered from severe depression, as well as her husband divorcing her.
The book goes back and forth from New Year’s Eve 1984 to various points in Lillian’s life and back to 1984. Each section is told chronologically, but because of the way it’s told and some of the comments Lillian makes, we know, for example, that her marriage doesn’t last, even before she tells us exactly what happened.
In 1984, Lillian doesn’t have anyone to ring in the new year with her. She lives alone and her ex-husband’s second wife is dying (he died of a heart attack several years ago), so her son and his kids are staying in California to take care of her. So after talking with him for a few minutes, Lillian has some time to kill before her annual dinner reservation, so she decides to go for a walk.
Rooney was very specific about the route of Lillian’s walk and she mapped it out before she started writing the book. Some people have said they find it hard to believe an 85-year-old woman could walk ten miles, but I’m skeptical of their skepticism. My grandmother is 82 and she’s one of the most active people I know. Lillian even mentions that she makes sure to walk at least 5 miles a day, so we know she’s still in the habit of walking long distances. It’s not like she’s using a walker.
Plus, she doesn’t walk the 10 miles all at once. She stops at a bar for a cocktail, she stops to eat dinner, and she goes to a New Year’s Eve party before finally walking the rest of the way home.
What I had not realized before reading this was that Lillian Boxfish was based on a real person. Of course, we can’t know if she took a long walk on the cusp of 1985, but she did work as an ad copywriter for Macy’s and was the highest-paid woman in advertising in the 1930s.
I listened to the audiobook and I loved it. I thought the narrator did a fantastic job, and at the end, there’s an interview between the narrator and the author and I loved listening to that, too. I highly recommend this audiobook.
What did you read this week? Anything based on a real person that you’d recommend?