Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Review: Mimi Malloy, At Last!

Summary: Meet Mimi Malloy: A daughter of the Great Depression, Mimi was born into an Irish-Catholic brood of seven, and she has done her best to raise six beautiful daughters of her own. Now they’re grown, and Mimi, a divorcĂ©e, is unexpectedly retired. But she takes solace in the comforts of her new life: her apartment in the heart of Quincy, the occasional True Blue cigarette, and evenings with Frank Sinatra on the stereo and a highball in her hand.

Yet her phone is arguably the busiest in greater Boston—it rings “Day In, Day Out,” as Ol’ Blue Eyes would say. Her surviving sisters love to gab about their girlhood, while her eldest daughter, Cassandra, calls every morning to preach the gospel of assisted living. And when an MRI reveals that Mimi’s brain is filled with black spots—areas of atrophy, her doctor says—it looks like she's destined to spend her days in “one of those storage facilities for unwanted antiques.”

Mimi knows her mind is (more or less) as sharp as ever, and she won’t go down without a fight. Yet as she prepares to take her stand, she stumbles upon an old pendant of her mother’s and, slowly, her memory starts to return—specifically, recollections of a shocking and painful childhood, including her sister who was sent away to Ireland and the wicked stepmother she swore to forget.

Out of the ashes of Mimi’s deeply troubled history, Julia MacDonnell gives us a redemptive story of the family bonds that break us and remake us. Mimi Malloy, At Last! is an unforgettable novel, alive with humor, unexpected romance, and the magic of hard-earned insight: a poignant reminder that it’s never too late to fall in love and that one can always come of age a second time. -- Picador

Despite not having an ounce of Irish blood in my body, I am always drawn to stories with Irish characters. That's one of the reasons that I decided to pick up MIMI MALLOY, AT LAST! by Julia MacDonnell. However, it also seemed like it would be a story about families and especially mothers and daughters; and I love books that delve into those types of relationships.

MIMI MALLOY, AT LAST! tells the story of Mimi Malloy, a 68 year old woman who is a mother to a six grown daughters. Her husband left her about 15 years ago for another woman, and she recently lost her job. To make things even worse, doctors have recently found black spots on her brain and her eldest daughter thinks she needs to go to assisted living.

Of course, Mimi thinks she's fine living on her own, smoking cigarettes and having the occasional drink (or two). She's even recently become quite fond of her building's maintenance man. However, when she discovers an old necklace that was once her mother's, she begins to remember her childhood... the good and the bad.

In the meantime, her sister has asked her to fill out a family tree for her grandson's school project. Mimi isn't the slightest bit interested in talking about her troubled childhood especially when it causes her to question what happened to her sister Fagan. All of Mimi's sisters all have different memories their stepmother and what could have occurred. Answers are found when Mimi's estranged daughter returns to the picture and actually helps them realize the painful truth.

I enjoyed MIMI MALLOY, AT LAST! and it was an entertaining novel. For the most part, it was a light-hearted and heartwarming story about a very memorable character. I found Mimi to be extremely funny, despite having some memory issues; and I loved how the author portrayed her. I could visualize Mimi and her sisters perfectly, and I had to laugh at Mimi's stubbornness and desire to keep her independence. In addition, I appreciated that Mimi had a little opportunity for some romance in her life after experiencing a pretty sad situation with her ex-husband fifteen years earlier.

However, in addition to some very funny parts of this novel. there were also some very dark secrets that came to light near the end of the book. While I could sense that something was coming, it still threw me for a loop and actually caused me to change some of my initial impressions of the story. -- it wasn't near as light as I first assumed! I also thought that many of the themes explored in this story were of a serious nature including family dynamics, mother/daughter relationships, memory, and redemption.

This is the first novel that I've read by Ms. MacDonnell and I have to say that I was impressed with her writing. I especially liked how smart this book was it really had just a different "feel" to it.  The author balanced a fine line between humor and wit while also delving into some pretty complex issues. In addition, she created a character in Mimi that is extremely memorable for her quirks as well as how she handled the relationships in her life.

MIMI MALLOY, AT LAST! would make an very interesting book club selection. There is a reading guide which explores many of the themes that I've mentioned in this review. While many of the topics are unique to Mimi and her family, readers might also find that they can relate to some of the relationships and secrets in the story. As a result, there are some universal themes in this story that warrant further thought and discussion including families, secrets, second chances, love, faith, redemption, and memory.

MIMI MALLOY, AT LAST! was selected as a National Indie Bookseller Pick for April, and I can definitely see why! It's an entertaining, yet thought-provoking read, and perfect for book clubs!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


bermudaonion said...

Mimi sounds like quite a character! You've made me curious about the secrets that are revealed.

Beth Hoffman said...

The ARC of this book was sent to me by the publisher in hopes that I'd write a blurb, but I didn't have time to get to it. I'm glad to know that you enjoyed it.

Beth F said...

I too like books about and set in Ireland or about Irish characters. I wonder why. Anyway, this does look really good.