Life Estates

Life Estates

by Shelby Hearon
     
 

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In Her Most Searching and most accomplished novel to date, the author of Owning Jolene and Hug Dancing explores friendship and loss -- and what binds two women together and what separates them. Sarah and Harriet, now in their mid-fifties, have been friends since boarding school. Their lives -- Sarah in the Blue Ridge mountains of South Carolina and Harriet in the

Overview

In Her Most Searching and most accomplished novel to date, the author of Owning Jolene and Hug Dancing explores friendship and loss -- and what binds two women together and what separates them. Sarah and Harriet, now in their mid-fifties, have been friends since boarding school. Their lives -- Sarah in the Blue Ridge mountains of South Carolina and Harriet in the piney woods of East Texas -- have run parallel courses: marriage, babies, even opting for separate bedrooms from their husbands at about the same time.

Or are their paths really so similar? Now they find themselves, within the same year, widowed -- and deep-rooted differences surface. For Sarah, marriage was a destructive snare; she finds freedom in nature, reward in a wallpaper business she has created (so women can make rooms of their own), and sexual satisfaction with a man in his late sixties who understands her needs. Harriet is lost, no longer employed as a wife; to protect herself she gets a gun; to bolster herself, a young man's attention.

A life-and-death crisis brings the two women together. In the course of their visit the disharmonies they have never before acknowledged are revealed and their friendship is profoundly changed.

Telling Sarah and Harriet's story, Shelby Hearon has given us a witty, disturbing, and moving novel about the way we see -- and fail to see -- our friends and ourselves.


From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
It's always a pleasure to watch a writer mature, and in her 13th novel (after Hug Dancing ), Hearon offers plenty of satisfaction to the discriminating reader. Here she explores the mysteries and ironies of marriage, friendship, parentage and love with a frank, searching and compassionate eye. Friends since boarding school days, Sarah Rankin and Harriet Calhoun have lived synchronous lives in South Carolina and Texas: both married bankers, had two children and were widowed in their 50s, within a few months of each other. The way they deal with widowhood and, indeed, with their own mortality is the starting point of this engrossing novel. To Sarah, who never enjoyed the ``bondage'' of marriage and chafed over the societal biases against married women (the inability to get one's own credit card, etc.), it's a relief to live singly again. She runs a thriving custom wallpaper business, pursues a relationship with her late husband's physician. Though Harriet's marriage was little better than Sarah's, she is devastated: ``I feel like I've lost my job: wife.'' While Sarah's daughter seems obsessed with having children in quick succession, Harriet's offspring seems determined to be barren, and the younger man Harriet wants to take to bed has yet to succumb to her blandishments; but suddenly a new development wipes away all thoughts but survival. Hearon writes with energy and acuity; her wit takes the form of sharp apercus about human nature and society. If her themes are darker here than in previous books, her voice is stronger, more outspoken, and she wisely eschews easy answers to life issues. The narrative speaks instead of grace under pressure, of carrying on after loss and grief, of affirming the day and looking bravely at the future. It's a thoughtful and honest book, with real relevance to our lives. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Although the compromises and tribulations of marriage constitute the subject of Hearon's 13th book (after Hug Dancing , LJ 10/15/91), it transcends popular women's fiction in its sensitive exploration of the long-term friendship between Sarah from the Blue Ridge Mountains of South Carolina and Harriet from East Texas, both recent widows. Their characters spring into focus as the author considers whether the differences in their lives were determined by time, place, and family. Domestic details regarding food and decoration serve to emphasize the work involved in daily existence, while descriptions of where and how each of the women lives enhance the story: Sarah's daily routine shows her resourcefulness and inherent happiness; Harriet's mirrors emptiness and lack of purpose. An asset for general collections.-- Patricia C. Heaney, Nassau Community Coll. Lib., Garden City, N.Y.
Alice Joyce
Hearon's compelling new novel revolves around an expansive portrayal of Sarah Cooper, open-minded and of an agreeably independent persuasion. Sarah's movement through a minefield of midlife challenges--loss and change, illness and mortality--provides the backbone of this warm and touching story. Although newly widowed, Sarah's pleased to be free of the confines of a less than fulfilling marriage. But her blessings--in the form of a devoted lover, a successful business venture, and a brood of grandchildren--provoke problems rather than praise from Harriet, an old childhood friend. Wrestling with her friend's demands, Sarah struggles for love and laughter amidst many harsher realities. A tale well endowed with crystalline impressions of relationships and possibilities.
From the Publisher
"The special bond that exists between a woman and her best friend would be hard for anybody to put down on paper; however, in her new novel, Life Estates, Shelby Hearon has done it beautifully with her touching portrayal of Sarah and her lifelong friend Harriet."

— Fannie Flagg

"Here she explores the mysteries and ironies of marriage, friendship, parentage and love with a frank, searching and compassionate eye...Hearon writes with energy and acuity; her wit takes the form of sharp apercus about human nature and society. If her themes are darker here than in previous books, her voice is stronger, more outspoken, and she wisely eschews easy answers to life issues. The narrative speaks instead of grace under pressure, of carrying on after loss and grief, of affirming the day and looking bravely at the future. It's a thoughtful and honest book, with real relevance to our lives."

— Publishers Weekly

"In Life Estates Shelby Hearon has written an unblinking and graceful novel of contemporary widowhood, filled with the pleasures and sorrows, loves and deaths of three generations of coping women."

— Alix Kates Shulman

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307790682
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/06/2011
Sold by:
Random House
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
240
Sales rank:
1,120,818
File size:
2 MB

Meet the Author

Shelby Hearon was born in Marion, Kentucky, lived for many years in Texas and New York, and now makes her home in Burlington, Vermont. She is the author of sixteen novels, including Footprints, Life Estates, and Owning Jolene, which won an American Academy of Arts and Letters Literature Award. She has received an Ingram Merrill grant as well as fellowships for fiction from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, and she has twice won the Texas Institute of Letters fiction award. She is the mother of a grown daughter and son.


From the Hardcover edition.

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