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Book Review: The Best Place to Be – A Novel in Stories by Lesley Dormen

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In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Ceyx was a Greek warrior who died tragically (as opposed to the other ways a character could perish in a Greek-inspired poem) and romantically called out his wife’s name as he sank alongside his boat during a violent storm.

And ev'n when plung'd beneath, on her he raves,
Murm'ring Alcyone below the waves…

Underwater her name probably sounded a lot more like “ASSIBBLOBBON!” than “ALCYONE!” but that isn’t the point. Mythology doesn’t wrap up its yarns without some abstract form of justice, so after Ceyx’s grief-stricken wife Alcyone plummets into the Mediterranean to die, the couple is reunited by being transformed by guilty Greek gods into Halcyon birds, which are a symbol of tranquility.

An abstract form of justice also comes to a bird in The Best Place to Be by Lesley Dormen. Grace Hanford at 50 has finally arrived at her tranquil halcyon days, not the benzodiazepine variety mind you, although she was a child of the sixties. The Best Place to Be is an eight-story novel constructed from the scrapbook memories of Grace, a loveable yet emotionally klutzy Ohio transplant in New York with separated parents and a distant (almost e[strange]d) father. Her laundry list lengthens with an exemplary bad dating record, a taciturn therapist, and a penchant to try to make sense of “Manhappenstance:”

Like when you see a stranger on a Midtown bus first thing in the morning and then later the same day you notice the same stranger, but in some other part of the city entirely…

The book is filled with familial surface tension, existential riddles, booty calls, and a grip of pop cultural references from the generation that gave this great nation a facelift. Dormen’s high-performance writing style shifts gears more than a formula one racer, time travels like Vonnegut, and is as memorable as nonreturnable merchandise.

The Best Place to Be is one boomer’s epic poem of the concentric themes of life and how she finds love in the fray.

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