Tracy Manaster’s debut novel, You Could Be Home By Now, is an interconnected set of bittersweet études on the theme of loss. It’s set in an Arizona retirement community, where the seniors unlucky enough to have bought into their houses at the height of the real estate boom now find themselves in financial danger from the real estate collapse, as their underwater properties have become white elephants. Indeed much of the novel’s plot results from one character—a crusty old area native—being forced to sell her house when it is accidentally discovered that she has her young grandson living with her, a hanging offense as defined by the Home Owner’s Association.
Although she is not one of the central figures in the book, it is she, her pending economic loss, and how others deal with it all that focuses the major characters on their own losses—emotional losses. There is a younger couple who have given up teaching jobs in the Northeast and come to work in Arizona after the stillbirth of their first child. There is an elderly divorced veterinarian who never managed to come to terms with the disappearance of his teenage daughter. There is a widow dealing with the first anniversary of her husband’s death, and her teenage granddaughter who has been sent to stay with her to keep her out of trouble.
The narration moves back and forth between these characters as they variously become involved with their neighbor’s problem, but even more significantly as they try to deal come to terms with their own problems, and find a way to go on living despite their losses.
The problems of Lily, the teenage granddaughter, serve as a kind of barometer against which the problems of the elders and the ineffectual ways they have been dealing with them can be measured. Lily has come out as a lesbian, only to discover that her best girlfriend liked boys. She had been a moderately successful beauty blogger, but got in trouble at school over some of her commentary. This got her sent to her grandmother’s and lost her her access to the internet as punishment.
For a teenager these kinds of losses must seem as bad as those of the adults, or even worse. It is easy to see the necessity for Lily to put these things behind her and go on with the rest of her life. Loss of a child, death of a husband—these would seem to be disasters on another level, yet they, like Lily’s disasters, must be dealt with and overcome. Life must go on.
Manaster creates vivid characters who come alive on the page, characters the reader can feel for and identify with even as they often seem to go over the edge. And if a retirement community seems less than an ideal setting for engrossing fiction, Manaster proves that wrong. In her retirement community there is humor and heartbreak, but most of all there is the poignancy of people, old and young, finding ways to go on living, and perhaps finding happiness.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=1440583129]