Review of Silver Alert by Lee Smith @AlgonquinBooks

This past week I read an article about how a lot of couples are choosing not to have children. Their reasons were varied but the reaction was not. Evidently people mocked them saying: “If you don’t have kids, who’s going to look after you when you get old?” The article pointed out that this comment had over 5000 likes. Interesting. It’s kind of a gambit, though, isn’t it? What happens if you get the kind of kids who really don’t want to look after you but want to throw you in a home?

Which is kind of what is happening in quirky, lively, Silver Alert by Lee Smith.

I don’t have kids but am thinking of hiring some now for when I get really old. Maybe I should start interviewing now. 😉

Blurb: A driving force in literature, the one and only Lee Smith returns with a road trip novel, a story full of hope and humor about not going away quietly—at any age. This funny and endearing novel of family, secrets, and aging follows an elderly man who heads off on a joyride with a new young friend—who may have some secrets of her own.

Aging Herb’s charmed life with his dear wife, Susan, in their Key West house is coming undone. Susan now needs constant care, and Herb is in denial about his own ailing health. The one bright spot is the arrival of an endlessly optimistic manicurist calling herself Renee. She sings to Susan during manicures, gets her to paint, and brings her a sense of contentment.

But then Herb and Susan’s adult children arrive to stage an intervention on their stubborn, independent father, and as a consequence, Renee’s gig with Susan—and her grand plans for her own life—start to unravel as well. So much had seemed as if it could change for Renee, who is not the happy, uncomplicated young girl she pretends to be. She is actually named Dee Dee, and she’s fleeing a dark past.

And Herb can’t just let go of all that he has ever had. So, he suggests one last joy ride in his Porsche. And the two take off north out of Key West, soon setting off a Silver Alert. As the unlikely friendship between Herb and Dee Dee deepens, we see how as one life is closing down, another opens up.

In this buoyant novel, the masterful Smith asks: What do we deserve? And how do we make it our own? Sometimes, you just have to seize the wheel. Fans of Smith’s many books in her storied, bestselling career won’t want to miss her newest novel. And readers of novels like Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes will adore Silver Alert.

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Herb Atlas is a dynamo without a filter who has acquired wealth and wives but remains an old-fashioned New York kind of guy nearing the end of his life. His idyllic life with his last wife, Susan, is unravelling when she is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. Although he’s hired nurses and extra help, nothing seems to be working until the day, aesthetician Renee shows up with beautiful polishes and a song in her heart she’s willing to share. But Herb’s kids and step-kids aren’t having it. They amass, have a supposed intervention, which is really no intervention at all but rather a coup in which they take over everything, sending Susan off to a care facility soon to be followed by Herb, regardless of his wishes. But Herb has the keys to be yellow Porsche and is going on one last adventure with Renee/Dee Dee in the passenger’s seat in Lee Smith’s vibrant Silver Alert.

Although Silver Alert tackles some difficult subjects like abuse, sex trafficking, aging, illness, the novel is filled with hope. Perhaps it’s a cliché to make the observation that childhood and elderhood are extremely similar phases in which an individual has no control over their lives. In the first, they haven’t acquired it while in the second it’s removed from them. Renee who will be referred to as Dee Dee (her birth name) from here on became a victim early on without any control over her life but fate–and some kind-hearted people–are guiding her toward a better life. Herb finds that after a medical diagnosis that his family disregards any wishes that he might have as they railroad him into what is easiest for them. They sort through his belongings, keep what they want, and sell or give away the rest. If there is anything sadder than being at the end of your life and having the reins snatched from your hands, I’m not sure what it would be. It’s for the best, it’s for the best, but whose best?

Both Dee Dee and Herb are richly drawn characters. Dee Dee’s voice comes alive on the page. Her love for sparkly things and Dolly Parton, her desire to see the Disney Princesses, her desire to have a house of her own, and make her own way. Likewise, Herb has such a rich history, lived so many adventures. Silver Alert is as much a character study as a novel that ends with a most beautiful attempt at escape in a yellow bird car built for speed.

My only complaint is that I wished we could have spent more time with Herb and Dee Dee on their remarkable drive.

Thanks to the publisher for a copy for an honest review.

6 thoughts on “Review of Silver Alert by Lee Smith @AlgonquinBooks

  1. This sounds like a good one. And it’s a crap shoot whether your kids will take care of you. So having kids just for the chance they will is hardly a good reason to have kids. I’m gathering all my childless friends together and we’re going to live together like the Golden Girls. Want to join in???

    1. It is a good read. re: kids. While I think Gen Z might be different (they are in so many encouraging ways), most generations in the US don’t seem to know what to do if they don’t have kids. In the book I just finished a woman says: “we were put on earth to have babies and if I could have 100, I would.” I thought this such a warped mentality, not to mention short-sighted. Having a higher consciousness (supposedly) seems to mean that we believe ourselves superior rather than a cog in the machine. Silly humans. (I’ll stop. This is definitely rant-worthy territory. haha)

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