Cover image for Seasons of sun & rain
Title:
Seasons of sun & rain
Author:
Dorner, Marjorie.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Minneapolis, MN : Milkweed Editions : Distributed by Publishers Group West, 1999.
Physical Description:
346 pages ; 24 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9781571310279
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

This novel tells the story of six women who were in college together in the sixties and now are gathered for a reunion at a B&B. Tracing each woman's emotions around the early onset of Alzheimer's disease that has stricken one of them, Marjorie Dorner delivers an honest portrayal, laced with humor.


Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Almost 30 years after their graduation, six women--close friends in the honors program at their small Wisconsin college--gather for a week at a B&B on the shore of Lake Superior, as five of them had done the previous summer. What makes this reunion different is that Micky Shaw, the best and the brightest of them, has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. On her good days, Micky is the quick-witted, compassionate, sometimes manipulative leader they knew; on her bad days, she doesn't know her own daughter's age or how to put on her socks. Jan, the closest to Micky of the group, suffers the greatest strain, as she assumes a caretaker role and agonizes over Micky's request that Jan assist her in committing suicide before her disease makes her a burden. The others at "Camp Men-O-Pause" are careful and caring with their friend as their innermost secrets are revealed and they reach a liberating level of openness. This warm, moving story gives a face to a devastating memory-eroding disease. --Michele Leber


Publisher's Weekly Review

Dealing with several too many hot-button topics, this slightly dated and certainly gender-stereotyped novel about six college friends reuniting for a week's retreat at a Midwestern lodge has the outworn feel of a 1970s story. Jan, Linda, Sharon, Mary, Peg and Micky, St. Augustine College Class of '68, leave their daily lives for a week to celebrate (and rue) their 50th birthdays. As they talk about midlife, menopause and men, sadness permeates their joy at being together: Micky, the vivacious leader of the crew, has developed early onset Alzheimer's and is slipping from a state of distracted forgetfulness toward the chasm of the full-blown disease. Terrified that she'll become a burden to her husband and children, Micky wants to commit suicideÄand has given her closest friend, Jan, this week to decide whether she will help. The women also disclose their feelings about childlessness, gay sons, sexual dissatisfaction, philandering husbands, aging parents and several affairs, but these matters are overshadowed by the pressure of Micky's request. Intent on covering all these bases, Dorner skimps on characterization. The reader is told, for example, that the women have in common their fierce intelligence, but little in their conversation substantiates this claim. In her first novelistic attempt outside the mystery genre (Nightmare), Dorner seems to have grasped the formula for commercial women's fiction, but her attempt to tackle too many issues makes it difficult for the reader to identify with her characters. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One Linda Wild lupine and evening primrose leaned out of the woods toward the strip of sunlight made possible by the narrow road, their purple and yellow blossoms almost touching the two cars, which were bumping slowly downhill after leaving the paved surface of the Gunflint Trail. The graveled road was pocked by small pools of standing water, the ravages of a wet spring and a still-wetter early summer.     The three women in the lead car had been silent for a while when one of them, Peg Brunner, finally spoke, her voice a little too loud with the forced cheerfulness that women use to signal a new beginning after an incident of social awkwardness.     "This year we have to go up to Hat Point to see the Witch Tree," she said. "We keep saying we're going to do it, but we never do."     "You're right. It's time we did." This from Jan Werden who spoke without taking her eyes off the road, her hands gripping the wheel. The grim set of her jaw seemed to signal that further conversation would have to wait until she'd led the two-car parade to safety at the bottom of the hill.     Alone in the backseat, Linda Tourneau held her peace for a few more seconds and then addressed the inevitable question to Peg.     "What's the Witch Tree?"     Peg turned in the shoulder harness, treating Linda to one of her dimpled smiles. Her eyes signaled her relief at this return to normal conversation.     "It's a cedar tree that clings to the rocks right at the edge of Lake Superior," she explained. "The local Indians think of it as sacred or magic, I guess. Anyway, it's become quite a tourist attraction."     "Oh," Linda said, bracing herself against the bags that filled the rest of the backseat as the car lurched around another pothole. The cases contained her own camera equipment, which wouldn't fit into the trunk once the suitcases had been loaded inside. Linda sighed and glanced out the back window at the Mazda bouncing along behind them. She could expect a lot of exchanges like the one about the tree, she supposed. The others would talk about places, objects, and events they had shared in this location, and she would be shut out unless she was constantly asking for explanations. She was the only first-timer among the six of them.     Last summer, the other five women had managed to sort out the complications of their lives enough to bring off a weeklong get together. Leaving behind husbands, children, and jobs, they had filled all the rooms of the Sawtooth Bed and Breakfast. Only Linda had been unable to make it, explaining that her fall exhibition in New York made it necessary for her to work straight through the summer. So she would inevitably feel on the outside whenever anyone said, "Remember last year when ..."     That might have been enough by itself to make Linda feel "out of it," but now, it seemed, she had caused a sort of incident by speaking her mind, had brought on that earlier silence in the car. She felt sore, wounded about it because she'd had no intention of producing such an effect--had spoken in the old confidence that these were people before whom she would need no pretense, no tailoring of her opinions to please or appease.     They had been discussing Micky's condition ever since the brief stop in Two Harbors, where Micky had said she would ride the rest of the way in Sharon's Mazda, and Jan had switched places with her and volunteered to drive Peg's Lumina. It was the first time since leaving her Chicago home that Linda had had the chance to talk to Jan outside Micky's hearing, to question the one person among them who had the most information. Last night they had all rendezvoused at Jan and Mike's house on the St. Croix River, but the customary euphoria of reunion, eating and drinking, deciding where everyone would bed down for the night, had precluded serious conversation. And they were all keenly aware of what Jan had written to them in the note she'd sent just a week ago to confirm last-minute details: "Micky knows that all of you know. She knows you love and support her. But while we're in Grand Marais, she doesn't want to talk about it."     As the miles slipped away from Two Harbors to Silver Bay to Little Marais, Jan talked in a strangely detached voice about symptoms and prognosis. Peg cried softly almost from the first words, but Linda had felt a diffused sort of anger, the outrage she always experienced in the presence of injustice or waste, aching for a concrete target against which she might vent her frustration. If only there were somebody to punch out! But all she could do was listen in silence as the words fell like blows. She watched the passing shoreline, noticing how the sunlight played across the choppy water, glanced off the pale hulls of sport boats cutting along near the beach. Finally the awful details came to an end, and there was a moment of silence. Even Peg's weeping stilled.     "If it were me, I'd kill myself," Linda said at last. "I would save up whatever pills I could lay my hands on, and then I'd write a few notes and swallow the lot."     "Oh, Lindy," Peg breathed, swiveling in her seat. "Don't say such things. Micky wouldn't do something like that."     "I'm just saying what I'd do," Linda said. "And if I couldn't manage it on my own, I hope my friends would help me."     "You say that so easily," Jan said, her tone suddenly harsh. "But you don't know what the hell you're talking about." Her voice vibrated with anger.     And then the silence had fallen. To Linda, Jan's reaction had seemed inappropriate, too much for the provocation. In fact, Linda didn't think her remarks had been at all provoking. And it wasn't like Jan to flare like that; she was ordinarily the mediator, the calmest one among them.     The car rounded a sharp curve and the road leveled. A clearing in the woods opened before them, revealing a graveled lot flanked on all sides by the pine and birch trees that typified this northern forest. Linda leaned forward to look. The building at the far edge of the clearing was a two-story lodge with natural pine siding; to its right, open decks at the ground level and second floors were connected by rustic stairs. To the left, the wide front door looked out toward a picnic table and low, rough-hewn benches. Shadows of the birch trees fell across the shallow lawn, reached fingers up toward the second story. As the two cars pulled into the spaces next to a dusty red Trooper, an Airedale of impressive size came bounding around the house, his barking sharp and urgent.     "Here we are," Jan said, switching off the ignition. "Welcome to Camp Men-O-Pause, Lindy." She didn't turn around as she spoke, but Linda could hear the apologetic tone, the intent to lighten the mood.     "It looks like a wonderful place," Linda offered, eager to make peace, smiling a little as she heard again this name her friends had created last year for their retreat into the woods.     "It is," Jan said, turning now with her old smile. "I know you're going to love it the way we all do. Don't worry about the dog. He's a pussycat."     They threw open the doors and stepped out into a slight breeze; Linda could feel at once that the temperature was much cooler than it had been that morning on the St. Croix. Lake Superior was a huge natural air conditioner and they were near enough to it even now, some five miles up the Gunflint Trail from the shore, to enjoy its effects. The first person out of the Mazda next to them was Sharon Kazmerinski.     "Jesus!" she exclaimed, lifting her hands at the road they had just descended. "That's no better than a cow path. At least the stuff in the potholes is water instead of cow piss." Then she flashed a grin in their direction. "Maybe it's moose piss. Would moose piss take the finish off my car? What do you think?" Before anyone could answer, Sharon bent to the Airedale, which had run straight up to her. "Well, hello there, Duncan," she cried, offering her hands for the big dog to sniff. "I think you're even bigger than last year. What the hell are they feeding you?"     Whenever she saw Sharon, it struck Linda anew that Sharon had undergone the least physical change since they had all graduated from St. Augustine College in 1968. Tall, angular, and rawboned, she still moved with the headlong energy that had propelled her through the corridors of Boyce Hall. Her pale skin was still drawn tight over raked cheekbones, and her short, fluffy hair was still the same shade of blond-gone-brown it had been when they were in college. Linda suspected that Sharon didn't have to resort to the potions she herself applied to cover the gray patches that were fast becoming gray thickets.     The Mazda's second occupant emerged from the back seat. This short, plump woman with the gray streaks in her ponytail had had so many names over the years that Linda always had to pause a second to think before she addressed her. In college she had been Mimi Cavallo, a tiny sylph of a girl with a musical voice and a perpetual twinkle in her dark eyes. But she seemed to change her name every time she made any other change in her life. Now she was just plain Mary Morgan, but Linda was relieved to note that the twinkle remained the same.     Micky was the last to get out of the car. Linda caught herself looking away--she'd been doing that a lot since last evening whenever Micky was near her. Now with a guilty twitch, she forced herself to refocus on the woman standing slowly up into the bright afternoon sunshine. Michelle Marie Jaeger Shaw had never been called anything except Micky--not that anyone could remember anyway. A slim, natural blonde, she had missed being a genuine great beauty by only the half inch of her overbite. Even so, Micky Jaeger's power owed little to her looks. "There's something about Micky," people always said when they were trying to explain why they would have followed her into tempest or fire.     Linda couldn't help thinking that she looked smaller somehow. Her once shoulder-length hair was cropped close to her head and so looked more light brown than blond. Everything about her body seemed to have gone just a little slack; she didn't look frail, just not "fit" anymore. Once, after hugging her in greeting last night, Linda had looked straight into her face and had felt a tremor of shock. The once-familiar features seemed to have shifted slightly; the flesh around the eyes had flattened, dragging outer corners downward. Linda had the creepy feeling that she was looking not at Micky, but at some less alert, coarser-featured twin or clone.     Later, when she was trying to sleep on the futon bed she was sharing with Mary in Jan and Mike's family room, Linda could not stop herself from remembering in detail the visit Jan had paid to her in October. Jan had called her from the Palmer House where she was attending a conference for clinical psychologists and had asked if she could just drop by for a while. "I have something I need to tell you in person," she'd said cryptically.     "I'm afraid I don't bring good news from Minnesota," she said over a glass of wine in Linda's sprawling living room. "It's about Micky."     Linda could feel a frisson of alarm. "Cancer?" she breathed, producing at once the terror that headed the list for women their age.     "No," Jan said softly, staring down into her glass. "Worse."     "What could be worse?"     "Alzheimer's. She has early-onset Alzheimer's."     Linda sat listening to the word, repeated twice, but she could not connect it somehow with anything. Of course, she knew the word, knew what it meant, but the context seemed to make it impossibly inappropriate. Jan might have been announcing the name of some newly imported beer that Micky had decided to try. Then Linda's mind turned over, made the link.     "No," she said, her voice sharp, dismissive. "That can't be true."     "I'm afraid it is," Jan said. "The neurologists at Mayo are ninety-nine percent certain. Apparently she's had it for a long time, longer than she let on to us, but they only had the MRI and other tests done last month. Peter made her go, finally."     "Oh, shit," Linda kept saying softly all the while Jan was speaking. "Shit, shit, shit." Finally when Jan fell silent, she said, "She just turned fifty."     "Alzheimer's is rare in somebody this young," Jan said, nodding. "And even then, you have to factor in that she's been covering the symptoms for years now. They might have begun in her mid-forties. And what's so strange is that there's no other case of it on either side of her family. You remember how she used to talk about her grandparents. They lived into their eighties and were pretty sharp until the end. Peter says the doctors are just baffled as to a cause."     Linda was still too numb from shock to keep up with Jan's stream of words. "Covering symptoms for years?" she echoed. "What do you mean by that? I talked with her for a long time at your birthday party, and she seemed just fine." That party the previous June had been Linda's last in-person contact with Micky.     "Sure she seemed fine. That's what I mean by `covering.' She was in denial. You must have noticed something in the round-robin letter. Her entries have been getting shorter and more disorganized in the past few years. Her handwriting doesn't even look the same anymore."     "I suppose," Linda murmured. "But I thought that was because she was so busy with her program. And she never was very organized, was she? Are you saying you knew, or guessed, from that?"     "No, but I was worried about other things. She'd already begun with the Post-it notes by then." In answer to Linda's blank stare, Jan went on, "She stuck Post-it notes up all over her house and office just to keep herself on track, and sometimes she'd forget to take them down and would do things twice. She tried to joke about it, said she was becoming the national poster child for absentminded professors. When Peter expressed concern, she just snapped at him."     "But Peter's a doctor," Linda exclaimed. "Why didn't he insist on some tests?" She couldn't shake her outrage, couldn't abandon the irrational conviction that if only something had been done in time, Micky wouldn't have this disease.     "Well, he's not that kind of doctor," Jan sighed. "And you know what it's like trying to insist on anything with Micky. But then she took that unpaid leave last year--to do research, she said--but he could see that she wasn't doing any research at all. And there were lots more Post-its by then. This summer, he went around the kitchen and read them. They were lists of what was in each cupboard."     "Oh, God," Linda moaned. "Oh, my God." She knew that Micky and Peter had lived in that house for over twelve years, ever since Peter had gone to work at the Mayo Clinic, and Micky had taken on the directorship of the social-work program at a nearby state university.     "Of course, Peter made her go in then," Jan went on. "The tests took four days. She fought the diagnosis for two weeks, Peter said--just refused to discuss it. Then one morning, she came down for breakfast and asked if there were any research programs into Alzheimer's at the clinic. When he said yes, she said, `Tell them they have a new guinea pig.'"     For the first time, Linda could feel tears stinging her eyes. That was vintage Micky.     "And then she wrote a letter of resignation to her university so they could appoint a new director before the school year got under way."     By this time, Linda had buried her face in her hands, palms against her mouth to stifle her sobs. Now in this cool, sunny clearing, she watched as Micky approached the big dog, a smile on her face, her slim hands already reaching out before her in greeting.     "Here's Steve," Peg said, and Linda turned toward the house. The front door was standing ajar and a tall, lean man was walking toward them. As he got closer, Linda noted that he was far from what she had been expecting. She'd stayed at B&Bs many times and had noted that the owners of such establishments tended to be retired couples indulging long-held fantasies of owning a "grand" house, but able to afford such a move only by renting out rooms on a regular basis. This man was young--in his thirties, she guessed--and looked more like a cowboy than an innkeeper. He had a thatch of curly brown hair and a long Scandinavian face. His muscular arms were deeply suntanned, and his weathered jeans hugged a narrow waist and hips.     Sharon leaned close to Linda and said, "You know, half of these friends of ours think he's a real stud muffin."     Linda watched as a quick blush spread up Peg's round face. "Oh, for heaven's sake, Sharon," she giggled.     "What about you, Sharon," Linda said. "Are you guilty of such unseemly thoughts?"     "I plead no contest," Sharon smirked and turned to watch the man, who was smiling as Jan stepped forward to shake his hand.     Linda ducked her head back inside the Lumina and began lifting her camera cases off the backseat. Eventually somebody would remember that she was the only one who needed an introduction to their host, but there was no point in just standing around waiting for it. There was plenty of unloading to do. Copyright (c) 1999 Marjorie Dorner. All rights reserved.

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