Amanda Eyre Ward
Hardcover (also available as an e-book and an audiobook), 978-0-3991-8189-4, 352 pgs., $28
March 3, 2020
Austin best-selling writer Amanda Eyre Ward’s new book, The Jetsetters, is both painfully poignant and delightfully funny, often in the same well-honed paragraph. Her eighth novel likely will please many readers who savor dysfunctional-family tales, especially those that keep alive battered hopes and possibilities for future reconciliations.
The Jetsetters’s improbable yet enticing setup is this: An aging mother, Charlotte Perkins, who normally travels only in a golf cart, wins a glitzy Mediterranean cruise in a big essay contest and convinces each of her three estranged adult children to join her on a trip that will stop at some of the world’s most idyllic and desired ports.
“To her great sadness and bewilderment,” Ms. Ward writes, “Charlotte’s three adult children were lost to her, and perhaps to themselves. Learning how to navigate the world without a husband had been painful—finding a job, trying to spruce up their badly lit rental home with Laura Ashley wallpaper, fielding questions about what had happened to Winston—but sometimes Charlotte actually missed those days. They had all been together, crammed into a tiny colonial, sharing one bathroom with a leaky shower. Although she hadn’t realized it at the time, Charlotte now understood that proximity mattered.”
Of course, regaining some of that proximity while sailing aboard a cruise ship simply brings their various reasons for estrangement into sharper and more intense focus. Charlotte’s offspring indeed have become lost to themselves, as well as to her. Can she regain any of that lost ground? (And, as a bonus, might there be a new love for her?)
Her eldest daughter, Lee, had felt protective toward her mother after her father, Winston, died. But now Lee’s Hollywood movie acting career is going nowhere, and she’s in debt and has “subsisted on egg whites and cocaine for years, believing it was just a matter of time before she got the job that would change everything.”
Charlotte’s son, Cord, meanwhile, is a gay, alcoholic venture capitalist with an Italian fiancé, Giovanni. In a drunken stupor, Cord has just convinced his business partners to risk everything on an initial public offering for a new product he has helped fund but has never seen.
And Charlotte’s youngest daughter, Regan, is seemingly happy with “her big, new home, her big husband, her two delightful daughters.” Yet she also has a dark fascination with death, wants to be an artist, and is addicted to paint-it-yourself pottery. “She’d surrendered herself to give her girls the mother she’d always wanted: present, attentive, enthusiastic. But she knew that as soon as she struck the match, her life was going to explode. She was both terrified and so very ready,” the author writes.
As the fateful cruise cuts through the Mediterranean and stops at ancient, storied sites, the famous scenery blurs into backdrops as angers, hurts, misconceptions, longings, fears, desires, and secrets unwind at an engrossing pace.
No family is perfect, obviously. Amanda Eyre Ward’s Charlotte, however, shows us that important reconciliations may be possible—if we are willing to go far enough out of our way to try.