The Leisure Seeker

The Leisure Seeker

by Michael Zadoorian


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Now a major motion picture starring Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland, coming January 2018 from Sony Pictures Classics

Official Selection

Toronto Film Festival

Venice Film Festival

The Leisure Seeker is pretty much like life itself: joyous, painful, moving, tragic, mysterious, and not to be missed.”—Booklist, starred review

The Robinas have shared a wonderful life for more than sixty years. Now in their eighties, Ella suffers from cancer and John has Alzheimer's. Yearning for one last adventure, the self-proclaimed "down-on-their-luck geezers" kidnap themselves from the adult children and doctors who seem to run their lives and steal away from their home in suburban Detroit on a forbidden vacation of rediscovery.

With Ella as his vigilant copilot, John steers their '78 Leisure Seeker RV along the forgotten roads of Route 66 toward Disneyland in search of a past they're having a damned hard time remembering. Yet Ella is determined to prove that, when it comes to life, you can go back for seconds—even when everyone says you can't.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061671791
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/09/2010
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 351,875
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.73(d)

About the Author

Michael Zadoorian is the author of Second Hand and The Lost Tiki Palaces of Detroit: Stories.

Read an Excerpt

The Leisure Seeker

Chapter One


We are tourists.

I have recently come to terms with this. My husband and I were never the kind who traveled to expand our minds. We traveled to have fun—Weeki Wachee, Gatlinburg, South of the Border, Lake George, Rock City, Wall Drug. We have seen swimming pigs and horses, a Russian palace covered with corn, young girls underwater drinking Pepsi-Cola from the seven-ounce bottle, London Bridge in the middle of a desert, a cycling cockatoo riding a tightrope.

I guess we always knew.

This, our last trip, was appropriately planned at the last minute, the luxury of the retiree. It is one that I'm glad I decided we take, although everybody (doctors, children) forbade us to go. "I strongly, strongly advise against any type of travel, Ella," said Dr. Tomaszewski, one of the seemingly hundreds of physicians currently attending to me, when I hinted that my husband and I might take a trip. When I casually mentioned the idea of even a weekend getaway to my daughter, she used a tone that one would normally reserve for a disobedient puppy. ("No!")

But John and I needed a vacation, more than we've ever needed one before. Besides, the doctors only want me to stay around so they can run their tests on me, poke me with their icy instruments, spot shadows inside of me. They've already done plenty of that. And while the children are only concerned with our well-being, it's still really none of their business. Durable power of attorney doesn't mean you get to run the whole show.

You yourself might ask: Is this the best idea? Two down-on-their-luck geezers, onewith more health problems than a third world country, the other so senile that he doesn't even know what day it is—taking a cross-country road trip? Don't be stupid. Of course it's not a good idea.

There's a story about how Mr. Ambrose Bierce, whose scary tales I enjoyed as a young girl, decided when he got to his seventies that he would simply shove off to Mexico. He wrote, "Naturally, it is possible, even probable, that I shall not return. These being strange countries, in which things happen." He also wrote: "It beats old age, disease, or falling down the cellar stairs." Speaking as someone who is acquainted with all three of those, I heartily agree with old Ambrose.

Put simply, we had nothing to lose. So I decided to take action. Our little Leisure Seeker camper van was packed and ready. We have kept it that way ever since retirement. So after assuring my children that a vacation was indeed out of the question, I kidnapped my husband, John, and we stole off, headed for Disneyland. That's where we took the kids, so we like it better than the other one. After all, at this point in our lives, we are more like children than ever. Especially John.

From the Detroit area, where we've lived all our lives, we make our way west across the state. It's a lovely trip so far, peaceful and steady. The air stream at my vent window creates a satin whoosh of white noise as the miles tug us from our old selves. Minds clear, aches diminish, worries evaporate, at least for a few hours. John doesn't speak at all but seems very content to drive. He's having one of his quiet days.

After about three hours, we stop for our first night in a small resort town that fancies itself an "artists' colony." As you enter the town proper, you pass, shrouded among the evergreens, a painter's palette the size of a children's wading pool, each daub of paint neatly dotted with a colored electric bulb that illuminates its corresponding hue. Next to it, a sign:


This is where we spent our honeymoon almost sixty years ago (Mrs. Miller's Boarding House, long since burned down). We rode the Greyhound bus. That was our honeymoon: taking the dog to western Michigan. It was all we could afford, but it was exciting enough for us. (Ah, the advantages of being easily amused.)

After checking in at the trailer court, we two walk around town a bit, as much as I'm able, to enjoy what's left of the afternoon. I'm very pleased to be here again with my husband so many years later. It's been at least thirty years since we last visited. I'm surprised to find the town has not changed much—lots of confectioners, art galleries, ice cream parlors, and old-time shops. The park is where I remember it. Many of the early buildings are still standing and in good shape. I'm surprised that the town's fathers didn't feel the need to tear everything down and make it new. They must understand that when people are on vacation, they just want to return to a place that feels familiar, that still feels like it's theirs, even if just for a short time.

John and I sit on a bench on Main Street where the autumn air is heavy with the scent of warm fudge. We watch families pass by, wearing shorts and sweatshirts, eating ice cream cones, chattering away, their laughter low-pitched and lackadaisical, the unwound voices of people on vacation.

"This is nice," says John, his first words since we got here. "Is this home?" "No, but it is nice," I say.

John is always asking if somewhere is home. Especially in the last year or so, when things started getting worse. The memory problems started about four years back, though there were signs of it earlier. It's been a gradual process with him. (My problems arose much more recently.) I've been told that we're lucky, yet it doesn't feel that way. With his mind, first the corners of the blackboard were slowly erased, then the edges, and the edges of edges, creating a circle that grew smaller and smaller, before finally disappearing into itself. What is left are only smudges of recollection here and there, places where the eraser did not completely do its job, reminiscences that I hear again and again. Every once in a while, he knows enough to realize that he has forgotten much of our life together, but these moments happen less and less these days. It cheers me on the rare occasion when he is angered by his forgetfulness because it means he's still on this side, here with me. Most of the time, he's not. It's all right. I am the keeper of the memories.

The Leisure Seeker. Copyright © by Michael Zadoorian. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are Saying About This

Chris Jussel

“Second Hand is a wonderful book about life at yard sales, garage sales, and the like, where many antiques begin their journey ‘up the ladder’ into the upper retail realms.”

Elmore Leonard

“Zadoorian’s pace is deceptive, it’s restful. But unexpected scenes jump out at you. Come to the end and you’ll say ‘Oh my God.’”

Pagan Kennedy

“Zadoorian has done no less than re-invent the American road story. These Easy Riders—drugged-up on meds, desperately in need of their naps, and determined to enjoy every last moment—are some of the most memorable characters I’ve ever met on the page.”

Bob Morris

“A couple of terminal senior citizens skip the end stage of hospitals and anxious children, step on the gas and stoically hightail it out of town…Death foretold, absolutely, but also the delight and adventure that comes late in life. The Dangerous Book for Seniors!”

Marjorie Hart

“Both achingly sad and intensely romantic, this unforgettable story of a last honeymoon hooked me from the first page. The Leisure Seeker depicts the heartrending choices of a loving couple, illuminated by events both past and present. I couldn’t put it down.”

Carol Schneck

“Zadoorian’s offbeat humor and obvious sympathy for his characters takes a story that could have been grim in the wrong hands and turns it into one of the most delightful books I’ve read in years.”

Customer Reviews

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Leisure Seeker 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 124 reviews.
whiteoak More than 1 year ago
Everyone knows or has known a couple similar to John and Ella. I am still astounded as to how Michael found Ella's voice. What a wonderful book! I laughed, I cried, but mostly I smiled. I can't stop recommending this book. Thank you Michael.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A friend recommended this book afetr I entertained her with comical stories about my adventures as the primary caregiver for my Mom, who suffers from dementia. This quick and easy read was thoroughly engaging and entertaining and reaffirmed my theory to find the joy in whatever time we have with our loved ones who no longer keep step with the rest of the world.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I understood this story, as I am a cancer survivor, and have lost 2 loved ones to Dimentia/Alzheimers. This was such a beautiful story, and spot on. Every young person should read this. I hope I go out as gracefully and lovingly as this couple. I will be looking for more from this author!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As I am the age of the main characters, I could relate to much of what they were experiencing. I'm not sure I would have chosen the solution she did as I'm not sure I would have been brave enough. But for a couple who have been married for so many years and the health problems they had, it was a beautiful ending of a loving marriage.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was hard to put down. I laughed, I cried, and didn't want it to come to an end. We all can see parts of ourselves in the characters, and only hope to have the love these two share. I will never forget this story.
Anonymous 8 months ago
Carolee888 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I think that everyone who is a Baby Boomer or in the sandwich generation needs to read this book. Even though this book will make you laugh so hard that you work at have to keep from crying, it poses a very important ethical question. The latter, you will become aware as you this book. Ella and John are couple in their eighties that I would love to have lived next door to. When you are that old, why spend time pleasing people? Why not do what is best for you? Ella is a witty, sarcastic woman who has terminal cancer. She doesn't mess around, she speaks her mind. She deeply loves her husband John and doesn't want another round of radiation and chemotherapy. What she wants is one last road trip, this time to Disneyland. John is her husband, he married her after WWII. He can be very stubborn, loving and has Alzheimer's. He calls Ella, his lover and thinks of her as the most beautiful woman that he has ever seen. A side story of this book is about Route 66 in past and present. I remember many of the things that she mentions in the book like Stuckey's nut rolls. But it also makes me think of the tiny red signs for Burma Shave that we used to see when driving long ago. So, if you are a fan of history about Route 66, you will really enjoy this story. There are so many things that I loved about this book. I cannot think of any negative criticism at all. It will make you, laugh, cry, get mad, get scared and be brave and enjoy life with Ella and John on Route 66.
bookwormteri on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very romantic and very sad. An elderly couple decides to take a final road trip before the end of their lives. Neither is in great health (the husband has Alzheimer's, the wife has cancer), and the trip is hard, but they would rather take this trip than sit at home or in a hospital. Their children freak out, but ultimately these are two adults and there is not much they can do.Everyone should have the right to live the way they want to, even or especially at the end of a long life. They reminisce and travel. I felt that this was very gentle, with two very believable characters. Very sad, but feels true.
psherman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Just fantastic! Ella's tone is perfection (I was somewhat surprised that this was written by a man; he certainly captured a woman's perspective flawlessly).
SqueakyChu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A book does not have to be of great literary merit to win my round of applause. It does, however, have to strike a chord within my soul, as does this bittersweet story by Michael Zadoorian of an elderly, declining couple who go on a road trip in a motor home with their destination as Disneyland. Does this sound silly? It¿s anything but that. It¿s a story of love, fear, determination, and joy. In fact, it made me laugh on one page, cry on the next, and run away quickly on the following page to copy down some notable quotes. What this author can do is hit the right notes. It tells the poignant story of aging, both physical and mental decline. For a long time it¿s a process which we see others doing, but eventually we all see this on our own horizon. As a result, this book may be less interesting to a younger person, but for someone nearing or in his golden years, this book totally expresses our feelings.
TimBazzett on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Michael Zadoorian's The Leisure Seeker is about many things, chief of which, I suppose, is growing old and all the aches, pains, illnesses and infirmities that go along with aging. It's also an achingly sweet love story that has spanned sixty years. John and Ella Robina, now in their 80s and on a fast-track downslope to the end of the trail, aren't quite ready to wrap things up yet. Or at least Ella isn't. John, in the middle-stages of dementia or Alzheimer's, drifts in and out of lucidity throughout the narrative, told from Ella's point-of-view. Ella who is in the end stages of cancer, and has resisted all the pain, sickness and indignities that she knows chemo and radiation therapy would add to the already often piercing pain of her cancer. So they pack up their mini-RV and leave their suburban Detroit home and hit the road for Disneyland.Zadoorian is a good storyteller, and a skillful one. Small details of the trip and the places they pass through and things they see are often pertinent to the final predicament of the old couple, a foreshadowing of what's to come. A ghost town on the Texas-New Mexico border is described as "unsettling ... hollowed out, yet gorged with memories. Still ... there are ruins here to hint at the past."In another scene reflecting the similarities of the beginning and end of life, Ella gives advice to a young mother with a colicky baby, suggesting the parents take the baby for a drive -"Then I wonder to myself: Does a feeling of movement soothe a new baby in the same way it soothes an old woman? ... New to the earth and not long for it somehow don't seem so different these days."Ella thinks often too about what happens after death, not at all certain about things like an afterlife, heaven and God. Zadoorian plays with this in a scene where John picks up the slide projector while it's showing an image of the two and the picture veers wildly about until - "finally, into the sky, where it is released completely, a mist of light ..." Ella's speculations along these lines continue later - "A gleaming world of energy and light, where nothing is quite the same as it is on earth - everything bluer, greener, redder. Or maybe we just become the colors, that light spilling from the sky ..."There is much humor here too, of course, the kind of gentle, old folks funny stuff you read in the comic strip PICKLES; you know, the Earl and Opal kind of absent-minded, forgetful silliness. But much of the humor in The Leisure Seeker takes on a darker hue, always colored by the knowledge of John's dementia and Ella's cancer and the inescapable consequences of both. Zadoorian also manages to poke a little gentle fun at his own heritage in a bit about the boyfriend who dumped Ella during the war for some "round-heeled Armenian broad. He wound up marrying her, after knocking her up."The darker edges of this sweet story are always lurking, however. Because no matter how much John and Ella love each other, even love can't stave off the inevitable. The ending, which is set, ironically, in The Best Destination RV Park, just a few miles from Disneyland, will break your heart, even if you may have guessed it was coming. My wife, as she raced toward the end of this book, sat at our kitchen table crying into her chicken soup, as she turned the final page. Now I've read it too and I understand why. Bittersweet thought the ending may be, Michael Zadoorian has written a lovely story - a love story for old folks. I will recommend it highly.
tjsjohanna on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved the voice of Ella in this book - matter-of-fact, content with herself, in charge. I loved the glimpses of the life Ella and John have made with each other - the moments when John remembers, when they are themselves together again. This is an unconventional road trip story, and I was torn between fear for the couple and sorrow for the difficulties that old age and sickness bring. Despite that, there are moments of real humor in the book, and I admired Ella so much for her strength.
shelleyraec on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Delightful, witty and tender and real, highly recommended - its likely to suprise you.Perhaps all the more personally since it echoes my own grandparents relationship.
LivelyLady on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Maybe because we travel in a fifth wheel part time, after camping for years with our kids, I could relate to many parts of this story. I do not know much about the author but he has a lot of insight on the camping lifestyle and on old age. Maybe it is experiential.But the story was funny, sad, romantic and poignant. I did not put it down once I started it. Will look into his other book.
fig2 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A sweet tale that looks at illness, aging and end-of-life choices, Ride along with Ella and John for one last road trip to the end of the line where they decide their own fate. Touching and funny.
triscuit on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the oddly enthralling story of an elderly couple, on their last legs with Alzheimers and incurable cancer, who escape their worried children and endless medical appointments by setting out in their little RV on a roadtrip across the US. I was completely won over by these characters - funny, spirited and unflinchingly authentic.
readingrebecca on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Leisure Seeker by Michael Zadoorian is the story of two people, Ella and John, who have been married for more than 50 years. Ella has cancer and John has Alzheimer¿s. Tired of treatments and procedures and doctors¿ appointments, Ella has decided to go on a final vacation in their RV, the Leisure Seeker, forgoing any more medical care, much to the consternation of their two adult children. What follows is the ultimate road trip. Ella and John¿s journey follows as much as possible the old Route 66, to their final destination, Disneyland. They have travelled frequently most of their married life and memories are shared of previous trips taken alone and with their children. Ella has brought along their collection of slides from previous journeys and we learn of their history through these slide shows and Ella¿s reminiscences. At times hysterically funny and at other times terribly poignant, The Leisure Seeker is a story of a marriage and a deep and abiding love. The writing is extremely good, clear and precise. You will not soon forget Ella and John.
brenzi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As busy as Mothers¿ Day weekend was, I found time to spend a few hours lingering over Michael Zadoorian¿s bittersweet second novel. It was the most rewarding few hours I¿ve had in a long time. But I was totally caught napping and unprepared for the sucker punch that was part of the package.Ella and John Robina are retired and sick, she with cancer and he with Alzheimer¿s. They want to get in one last trip in their camper (the Leisure Seeker), so they defy their doctors and children and set out from their Detroit home to travel the length of Rt. 66 from Lake Michigan to the Pacific Ocean. The book tells the story of their journey, the people they meet and the stops they make along the way. A wry, tender novel, filled with dark humor, and episodes of comic relief, we follow Ella and John through small towns and historical landmarks and along the way we get to know them very well. The author provides us with glimpses of life when you¿re near the end of the road and the irony of coming to the end of Rt. 66 parallels the lives of these two. Rundown seedy towns, neglected stores and tourist venues dot the route that has been by-passed by the super highways that could get them to their destination so much faster.Zadoorian presents a cynical look at life that¿s bound to accompany the old age and illness that we¿re all destined to face at some point. Every evening they spread a white sheet on the side of their camper, and watch slides of previous vacations, time gone by:¿I think about the people in the slides, most of them gone now, heart attacks and cancers, betrayed by the foods we ate, by our La-Z-Boys, by our postwar contentment, everyone getting larger and larger in every year¿s photographs, our prosperity gone wide.¿ (page 57)The author throws more than a few gems our way:¿We pass a church with a massive blue neon cross, and I am spiritually lifted by feelings of great religiosity. No, I¿m not, for crying out loud. Don¿t be ridiculous. But what I do love about this road is how the gaudy becomes grand, how tastelessness is a way of everyday life.¿(page 37)And Ella reveals a complete distrust for the authenticity of Will Rogers:¿We pass on the Will Rogers Memorial in Claremore. I never much cared for the man. A big phony, I believe. Anyone who never met a man he didn¿t like just isn¿t trying hard enough.¿ (page 79)I grew fond of these two curmudgeons whose love for each other is unparalleled and I could have gone on reading about them forever. Highly recommended.
Kanellio on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Call it the ultimate road trip, or perhaps liken it to THE BUCKET LIST, Michael Zadoorian presents a poignant, humorous, tender tale that the reader can tell must be drawn to some extent from personal experience. THE LEISURE SEEKER is a love story woven around a couple with such warmth and care that they will haunt you for a long time, but in a way that you will welcome each time you think of them. Their somewhat ironic story is so well written, with just the right touch of humor that you will laugh out loud, cry, smile, and want to tell those close to you all about it. Ella and John Robina have shared a life for over 50 years and so now in their eighties they `run away from home¿ leaving behind their grown children and their families, a medical team bent on treating Ella¿s incurable cancer and John¿s Alzheimer¿s, and their beloved Detroit. Their journey will revisit the places and trips from their past that they shared with their children and friends as they make their way to their ultimate destination, Disneyland. Ella feels Disneyland is the perfect place because, as she says ¿After all, at this point in our lives, we are more like children than ever. Especially John.¿Ella, is spunky and not worried about John¿s dementia as she says, ¿It¿s all right. I¿m the keeper of the memories¿ and feels they will be fine because ¿Between the two of us, we are one whole person.¿ John drives their seasoned 1978 Leisure Seeker RV and is quite capable and in fact seems better driving for hours on end as he is increasingly less lucid during normal everyday activities. Ella, meanwhile, has not driven in over 30 years, so she is the navigator and seeks out all the kitschy, tacky tourist stops along their chosen path of travel on Route 66 to California. Popping Pepcid first, they eat at several Route 66 Diners, but McDonalds remains John¿s favorite. From the start of the route, Ella throws caution to the wind, along with her wig, as she enjoys the sun on her almost bald scalp after so long without this feeling of freedom. Museums, giant ¿must see¿ statues, ghost towns, Stuckey¿s and the famous pecan log by day, and by night at their campsite, Ella and John relive their life together through old slides that they project on a sheet. This is more than a ¿Kodak Moment¿; this is a retelling of their love story, of their lives together. Park neighbors venture by and share in the love and courage these two people have lived through as the cinematic interpretations flash across the simple screen. With many a mishap, as well as much joy, the Robinas make it to Disneyland as each of them, especially Ella, exhibits rapidly declining health, the increased dependence on medication to treat Ella¿s ¿discomfort¿, and John¿s lack of hygiene and control, physically and mentally. What happens at their final destination is told with such care by an author who clearly knew his subject and how to tell about it. With Michael Zadoorian¿s beautifully phrased descriptions, such as when he describes the campsite in early evening for Ella by saying ¿Twilight slips in like a timid creature¿, one knows they are holding something special in their hands. The ending will come too quickly for the reader as it truly is a book you can¿t put down. I read it in one sitting and it left me with much to ponder, appreciate, and continue to contemplate even after I closed the book. The ending is affecting in ways, while remarkable and fitting in others. Do not miss this book as it is a joy to treasure and makes it quite clear why Michael Zadoorian was selected for Barnes & Noble¿s Discover Great New Writers after only his first book, SECOND HAND. What shall Mr. Zadoorian be selected for after this superb second novel? You decide as I already have! Submitted Originally to BOOKIN¿ WITH BINGO by Karen Haney, February, 2009
GailHollingsworth More than 1 year ago
The premise of the book sounded interesting. It caught my attention because my husband and I have an RV and enjoy spending time together traveling in it. Ella and John, in their eighties, have a motive to their madness. He has Alzheimer's and she is in the end stages of cancer. Against advice from their doctors and wishes of their two children, they pack up their RV and leave Michigan headed on a trip of a lifetime across the US for California and Disneyland. Their adventures are captured on the pages of this book along with their reminiscences of their life and trips with their children growing up. I admired the courage of Ella and the tenderness of John. She looked out for him and he, her when he was able. Traveling the old Route 66, they made many stops and visited museums, diners and campgrounds. I especially enjoyed the enteractions of the people they encountered. Ella could be quite feisty at times and definitely talked sailor talk at times. But overall it was an enjoyable read that I completed in two days. I checked this out from our public library and chose to write a review, but was not required to do so.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thought provoking book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put it down. What a great story of lifelong love.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beautiful story of life and love
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Too nitty-gritty for me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago