Published by Unsolicited Press ISBN 9781947021099
Trade paperback, $17, 336 pages
We first met Lavinia Dugan's family in Anne Leigh Parrish's fantastic book of linked stories Our Love Could Light the World. (My 5-star review is here.)
We catch up with Lavinia in Anne Leigh Parrish's marvelous novel, The Amendment, where Lavinia now-Starkhurt has to deal with the sudden death of her older husband Chip, struck down by lightning on the golf course. Chip was Lavinia's second husband and generous stepfather to her five children.
Chip loved Lavinia, and Lavinia loved Chip, even if he didn't excite her as much as her ex-husband Potter. When she and Potter were married, he couldn't hold down a job and he drank too much. Chip owned his own company, where Lavinia worked before she married Chip, and provided a lifestyle for Lavinia that enabled her to lead a life of leisure.
After Chip's death, Lavinia decides to leave her Finger Lakes region home and take a road trip across the country. She needs to get away from Mel, Chip's golfing buddy who loves Lavinia, and Alma, Chip's housekeeper who adored Chip (but not Lavinia). After her daughter Angie's attempt to get Lavinia to participate in group grief therapy goes terribly awry (Lavinia says some very inappropriate things), Lavinia hops in her car and takes off.
Along her travels, Lavinia picks up random items as totems of a sort- a stuffed teddy bear, a thimble collection she finds at garage sale, and a vase for the fresh flowers she buys every day. She stays at small motels along the way that have a diner nearby.
She meets people on her journey, listens to their stories and tries to help them, which is unlike her. She gives rides to people who need her help: a woman who was abandoned by her boyfriend at the laundromat, a teenager on the run from his uncles.
Lavinia stays for awhile at the home of her ex-sister-in-law. Patty and her husband Murph take her in and Lavinia stays for a few weeks, working for a few hours at a flower shop, trying to get a volunteer job as a driver for social services (until a previous DUI is discovered), and even has an affair with a cowboy.
I found Lavinia to be a fascinating, multi-dimensional character. She reminded me a bit of Olive Kitteridge from Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer Prize novel of the same name. She is prickly and speaks her mind whether people want to hear it or not. She wasn't the best mother, maybe not affectionate enough. She wasn't the best wife to Chip, realizing that she married two men who were afraid of her. Some people call her a "straight-shooter", and she describes herself as a bitch.
I powered through The Amendment, turning the pages furiously because I couldn't get enough of Lavinia. She is funny and fierce and truly one of the most interesting characters I have found in a long time. I thoroughly enjoyed taking to the road with Lavinia and I highly recommend The Amendment.
Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Anne Leigh Parrish's tour. The rest of her stops are here: