Dearly Departed (Lipman)

The Dearly Departed 
Elinor Lipman, 2001
Knopf Doubleday
288 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780375724589

With her latest work, Elinor Lipman expertly serves up her usual delicious dish of entertainment. When the story opens, the not-so-sunny Sunny Batten has just received news that causes her to be even more morose than usual: her mother, Margaret Batten, has died in a freak accident with Margaret’s alleged fiancé, Miles Finn. Thus Sunny returns to the small New Hampshire town of King George and to the charity bungalow on the edge of the country club’s golf course where Margaret raised Sunny by herself. While at the funeral, Sunny catches her first glimpse of the brash Fletcher Finn, Miles Finn’s son and self-described possessor of “a heart of plutonium.” And who can’t help but notice, as they sit together at the graveside, the resemblance between Sunny and Fletcher, “the flagrant display, wherever one looked, of Miles Finn’s genes” [p. 79]?

But mourning does not become Sunny. Bitter memories of her childhood come flooding back, triggered by encounters with her high school golfing teammates—all boys—and her embarrassment at discovering what her mother’s new midlife hobby had been: acting. To Sunny’s mortification, Margaret had blossomed from a divorced wallflower to a much-admired amateur actress in the town’s local theatre troupe, the King George Players, and, as her daughter discovers, the object of widespread affection.

Sunny’s return to King George proves that one can go home again, as her grief segues into pleasant alliances with the townspeople, in spite of past grievances and perceived slights. Among the hilarious, realistic, and endearing cast of characters with whom Sunny becomes reacquainted are Joey Loach, the detention hall high schooler who has become the town’s heroic police chief; Emil Ouimet, the town physician who wears his love for Margaret on his sleeve; and Randy Pope, the golf-team-captain-turned-respectable-lawyer. Even the wealthy Emily Ann Grandjean, who hired Fletcher to promote her unattainable political aspirations, seems to sympathize with Sunny, and she soon comes to learn that maybe King George is not such a bad place after all. (From the publisher.)

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