- Title: Mimi Malloy, At Last
- Author: Julia MacDonnell
- Genre: Fiction
- Published: April 2014 – Picador
- Source: Publisher
Synopsis: 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 divorcée, 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, 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 that’s exactly where she’s headed, to spend her days in “a storage facility for unwanted antiques.”
Mimi knows her mind is (more or less) as sharp as ever, and she won’t go down without a fight. 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, a sister who was sent away to Ireland, and the wicked stepmother she swore to forget.
My take: Mimi Malloy’s daughters are so annoyed that she refuses to take care of herself despite her doctor’s warnings of stroke and certain death. She also will not leave her low-income apartment for a beautiful new senior home. She likes her independence and familiar surroundings, thank you very much.
When Mimi’s sister’s young grandson works on a genealogy project for school Mimi is asked to fill out a family history. She’s not one to live in the past so this is about the last thing she wants to do. After a little pestering she does as asked and that’s when she starts being visited by sisters and others who’ve passed. It’s as if they are leading her to discover details of their early lives that she remembers quite differently from the others.
Julia MacDonnell’s characters seemed so familiar to me. It was like watching and listening to my mother and her sisters gab at reunions when I was a young girl. Were the details the same? No. But the characteristics and era were. They grew up in tough times and had responsibilities way beyond their years. When someone “fell” she tried her best to get back up and move on. As Mimi’s daughters listen to their aunts and mother they realize they didn’t know them as well as they thought.
There’s so much more to the novel. The decisions made during tough times changed lives and are remembered quite differently by Mimi, her sisters, and her daughters. Their acceptance of the various perspectives lead to understanding on a new level.
I really liked this novel of family dynamics and perseverance and will recommend it to family and friends next time we’re together – there’s a reunion this summer!