"I found it full of life and full of wisdom.” —Erica Jong
Smart, poignant, funny, and totally original, Lillian on Life is as fresh and surprising as fiction gets.
This is the story of Lillian, a single woman reflecting on her choices and imagining her future. Born in the Midwest in the 1930s; Lillian lives, loves, and works in Europe in the fifties and early sixties; she settles in New York and pursues the great love of her life in the sixties and seventies. Now it’s the early nineties, and she’s taking stock. Throughout her life, walking the unpaved road between traditional and modern choices for women, Lillian grapples with parental disappointment and societal expectations, wins and loses in love, and develops her own brand of wisdom. Lillian on Life lifts the skin off the beautiful, stylish product of an era to reveal the confused, hot-blooded woman underneath.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Whenever I wake up next to a man, before
I’m fully awake, I think it’s Ted. Of course
it never is.
That’s okay. This morning I watched Pandora walk
the length of Michael’s naked body. His skin turned to
gooseflesh as she started up his thigh. Her pretty gray paw
depressed the flesh of his belly, and his sleeping penis rolled
toward his hipbone. She stepped off him at the shoulder.
She could have walked on the bed; there was a little space
between him and me. Maybe he doesn’t exist for her. Maybe
she was saying that he’s no better than a mattress. She snuggled
into my neck, purring smugly like an idling Jaguar.
I wanted Michael to wake up and see us like that: an
independent woman beloved of her elegant cat. But of
course he didn’t. They don’t. They wake up at all the wrong
times, and see all the wrong things.
To be fair, we drank a lot of red wine last night, and I
can hold it better than most people. My eyes still snap open
in the morning. Wine is still my friend. I hate that I can’t
drink coffee in the wee hours and then sleep anymore,
though. The body evolves, then it devolves. It’s terrible. One
day you’re someone you know, and the next you’re someone
you don’t. You dry up. It’s embarrassing.
Every once in a while I wonder if I’m glad Ted didn’t
stick around for my menopause. A woman has so many
things to hide after fifty. I ask myself if we could have tolerated
so much physical change, followed by dotage.
I don’t have to wonder with Michael. He comes and
goes. There isn’t time for him to notice everything.
The trick at my age is to keep some K-Y Jelly in an attractive
pot on the bedside table. You squeeze it out of the
tube into the pot for when you have a visitor. When his
hands are beginning to move on you, you turn away and
slip your fingers into the jelly. He can caress your bottom
or your shoulders in the meantime. When you turn back
you take him in your hand and lubricate him. Maybe he’s
not even erect yet, and this way you have the satisfaction
of knowing that what you’re doing for him is working.
I’m not sure there’s a bigger satisfaction than that in life.
And as long as he’s feeling it’s for him, you’ve diverted his
attention—and even your own—from the fact that the lubrication
is for you. On top of it all you maintain your sense
that you’ve still got plenty of sap in your tree. Name me a
wife who does that.
Michael’s wife is crazy. She probably didn’t seem it when
she was young. She probably just seemed young. Now she
just seems silly. That hair band of hers. The tangential
things she says. She’s almost as tall as I am, and only about
five years younger, fifty-two I think, but she blinks at you.
She stands up tall and her chestnut hair sits perfectly turned
up on her shoulders in the same way I’m sure it has since
1960, and she smiles and blinks, as if to protect herself from
anything modern or unpleasant. Imagine life by her side.
How would you ever connect? Well, you wouldn’t.
Do some people not need excitement? I’ve always
thought humans were too complicated not to need stimulation.
What does Michael do to keep his wife hanging on?
Or what does she do that keeps him married to her? I don’t
like to ask. I’ve learned not to cling.
He sleeps really late when he’s with me. I don’t think it’s
allowed at home, certainly not naked. He’s intimated as
much. Separate beds too.
I thought my parents’ marriage had come to an end the
day their twin beds arrived. I didn’t know it was happening
all over the neighborhood, probably all over the country,
and Mother was merely keeping up with the Joneses. But
how often did the Joneses go up to my parents’ bedroom?
Never. Mother just felt them walking around in her head,
and had to keep up.
Reading Group Guide
1. Lillian lives in a time of great change. In what ways is she both a traditional woman and a modern one? How does she defy society’s expectations of her? How does she conform to them? In what ways would today’s society perceive her differently now from how society would have perceived her in the 1960s and 1970s?
2. In the beginning of the novel, Lillian wonders whether “beauty has a dual purpose” (page 7), like wives and K-Y Jelly. What do you feel this dual purpose is? Does that purpose change over the course of the story? Over time? What role—good and bad—does Lillian’s beauty play in her life?
3. Lillian lives in various European cities—Munich, Paris, London—before New York, where she lives as she tells her story. What significance does each place have in the context of the book? Is traveling important for growing up and/or being independent? Is Lillian an independent person?
4. Even though Laszlo raped Lillian, why does she agree to meet him when he shows up in London? Does the rape affect her views on sex and men? How does it relate to the out-of-body experience she has with John (page 121)?
5. When Lillian thinks about her decision to live in Germany for six weeks, she remarks, “The parental presence is eternal” (page 52). How is this reflected in the way this story is told?
6. What impact does Lillian’s relationship with her father have on her future relationships with men?
7. When she is in bed after the robbery, Lillian craves the same feeling that Ted gave her—of someone else knowing “exactly who you are” (page 191). What does this say about her choice to be his mistress for twelve years? Why does Ted end up being the love of Lillian’s life? Does she make the right decision? Could she have worked out a lifetime relationship with any of the men in the book?
8. Lillian doesn’t mention many close female friends. Why do you think that is?
9. How does Lillian’s relationship with her mother shape her into the person she is? Does Lillian resemble her mother in any way? How did you react to Lillian’s decision to get an abortion (page 146)? How might motherhood have changed Lillian?
10. A female narrator over the age of fifty is uncommon. How did Lillian’s age influence your reading experience? What does the underrepresentation of female heroines older than fifty say about society’s views on women?
11. The last line of the novel states: “Actions are whispers compared to dreams.” Do you agree? Why does Lillian choose to close her narrative with these words? What do you think is the book’s central lesson? What is your favorite piece of Lillian “wisdom”?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I couldn't stick with this book. I didn't find the stories humorous at all and was disappointed with Lillian's lack of moral values.
This was a very entertaining read. It is a well written and honest reflection of how one’s choices and experiences can shape who we become. It has an addictive quality and is difficult to put down. I read the entire thing in one day. It is basically a trip down memory lane told by Lillian herself. She led quite an interesting life and she is a dynamic and candid narrator. The seeming randomness of her musings adds a unique and charming quality to the story. It was fascinating to watch her personality develop over time. I would recommend this book as a very unique and engaging read. This is the first book I have read by this author. I would consider reading more of her books. I received an ARC of this book from Penguin’s First to Read program in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Lillian on Life by Alison Jean Lester is about Lillian and things that happened in her life. It is like she is reminiscing about her life. The book is organized into many little chapters/sections. Each section is like a short story. Lillian tells about growing up, her career, traveling, her lovers, and her cat, Pandora, as well as the lessons she learned. Lillian on Life is written in the first person. Somehow I just never connected with this book or Lillian. I think it is the way it is written and organized. Lillian’s tales are interesting, but I just did not enjoy this book. I think the right phrase would be “it is just not my cup of tea”! Received a complimentary copy of this book from First to Read in exchange for an honest review.