Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

Helen Simonson
Random House
New York, 2011

The power of history versus the circumstances of now. The necessary onward crush of housing developments for ever-growing numbers of humans versus the fragile beauty of one neighborhood’s soul-settling view from back windows. The constraints of cultural differences versus genuine attraction to another as friend or lover. The integrity of a strong unwavering core of self versus the vagaries and necessities of compromise. The responsibility of passing family heirlooms from one generation to the next versus today’s financial concerns. The ever-popular man versus woman thing. The reconnecting of generations of family that have drifted apart during years of normal living. Simonson has a lot of countering sub-points to keep action moving amid almost too clever British repartee gracefully floating between them. Or it could be we’re just not so conversationally clever on this side of the pond.

To anchor the ideas she primarily keeps the action in a small English village, and the viewpoint from one beleaguered, middle-aged Brit with snappy humor and sincere feeling. Major Pettigrew is the book’s center and through his lonely heart and acerbic wit, the reader witnesses his aging, quiet life. When told young men now expect their wives to be as dazzling, beautiful, and charming as their mistresses, instead of merely useful, the Major replies, “That’s shocking. How on earth will they tell them apart?” While consoling his grown son over a broken heart, he says, “You are not the first man to miss a woman’s more subtle communication. They think they are waving when we see only the calm sea, and pretty soon everybody drowns.”

The book is primarily a second-time around love story, but life keeps interrupting for both the Major, and the widowed, Mrs. Ali. The flow, tone and artwork on the front cover early-on convinced me this would be a happy ending story, so I didn’t need to worry about the two of them finally settling the dust of their lives to be together. Instead, I read it like I watch most summer release movies. I am entertained and away from worldly worries and concerns. Yet, for all the entertainment, I closed the cover understanding a bit more about English, Pakistani and U.S. culture.

Written with British-barbed spoken language and set in clear scenes, this would make a good movie for a certain set of less catered-to movie goers. Unlikely to be a classic a hundred years from now (but then again, who knows), it is a book of current life that is easy, well-written, adult female escapism.

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