Quite a Year for Plums by Bailey White

Find in catalogLike a letter that might have been written 30 or 40 years ago, Quite A Year for Plums is quiet, deeply connected to place, tender and funny.

The major dramas in the characters’ lives, divorce and death, have taken place off-stage before the book begins. One of the divorced men, Roger, a plant pathologist, is the pivot around which the book turns. Though he speaks little in the book, a quartet of women mostly in their 70s speak often of him, his situation, and his new love interest, Della, a painter and “a serious woman, with her mind on birds.” They also speak often of his ex-wife, Ethel, a woman whose behavior one of the group finds it difficult to condone or even to comprehend.

Criticized by some readers for “lacking plot,” what we have instead is the stuff of daily life: relationships and the conflict, adventures, and change that result as individual needs arise. Along the way we learn about such things as the problems in making art, the Betty Sheffield camellia, and the final days of a 35 year old horse.

White makes ample use of her wonderful sense of the absurd. In one scene a forester, impassioned about the uses of fire, utters, “Smokey Bear is the most destructive animal that ever walked the North American continent.” In another scene White intertwines–to hilarious effect–a conversation about the deaths resulting from a recent airplane crash in a swamp and another about Ethel’s impact on men.

White draws recognizable characters with human failings who misunderstand, forgive, and show kindness to each other. For a reader willing to contemplate the meaning of the small gesture, this book is full of riches.

Reviewed by Lily

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