Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Proper Choice

From the beginning of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson, it is clear to the reader, though not to Major Pettigrew, that he is looking for a new love.  His wife died a few years before the story begins, and although the Major has been keeping himself busy, he is growing a little bored.

At first, I was not a fan of the Major, and thought that he would be well suited to a crotchety, self righteous woman like Olive Kitteridge.  I kept reading though, and realized that the Major really wasn't so bad, but was just hung up on his ideas of what was "proper".  This made him a good match for Mrs. Ayers from The Little Stranger.  But soon, it became clear that the Major was meant only for Mrs. Ali.

In MPLS, the Major is a stodgy old Englishman, who surprises himself by falling in love with a woman, Mrs. Ali, who was born in England, but is of Pakistani descent.  The Major doesn't think that he has prejudices, but he knows that Americans are crass and annoying, and that an English gentleman really can't become involved with a foreigner, even if she was born in one's own country.  He doesn't struggle with his beliefs so much as he looks at them in fresh light, and slowly realizes that what he thought he knew was not his own belief at all.

MPLS looks at the parent/adult child relationship from the less explored perspective of the parent.  The Major realizes, without blaming himself or his wife, that his son, Roger, has grown to be a person who he really doesn't like.  It is refreshing to see the parent having to show the adult child why he should be more accepting of others.  So often it is the stereotype to have a prejudiced, out of date parent refusing to accept the person the child is dating.  Roger, who is obsessed with his image and quite convinced that his dad is old fashioned, is willing to accept Americans, but sees the English born Pakistanis, including Mrs. Ali, as foreign and below him.   

The Major taught me a new word, which I really should have known before now.  The word is "patrimony", which is defined as "an estate inherited from one's father or ancestor" or "anything derived from one's father or ancestor."  As an estate planning attorney, I bet that I could use a phrase like "he's in it for the patrimony" on an almost daily basis.  The Major's son is absolutely in it for the patrimony.  The Major realizes with some embarrassment that the love of patrimony is a trait that Roger inherited from him.

Ultimately, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is a very sweet, memorable love story.   The Major learns that the people he loves don't have to be the people he is tied to by blood, but that the ties of blood complicate each person's life, and add fullness to it, nonetheless.

Next up on CD:  Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

Still Reading:  Little Bee by Chris Cleave

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