Book Review: Extinctions by Josephine Wilson

2015, 349 pages

Fredrick Lothian is a professor that has many secrets lurking under the surface of his bland exterior life. A recent widower, he makes the decision to leave his family home and sequester himself at an old-folks home that he loathes. His days are spent observing his neighbor’s, the next door woman with the loud (and not strictly legal) screeching birds, and the man he watches on his walker, the only person at the home with whom he has a nodding acquaintance. He avoids the dining room, the phone, and the truth with equal alacrity until an accident he observed and didn’t intervene with changes both his life, and his observations.

This book vaguely reminds me of other novels about men that have such a sense of superiority that the reader just knows there is a huge amount of guilt and / or inferiority that will be revealed. Ms. Wilson writes with the emotional restraint of Richard Ford, and Fredrick’s point of view hits as masculine and emotionally caged. Like Mr. Ford, she presents a protagonist that is hard to feel sorry for, until the scales are dropped from our eyes and we are able to see the pain and feel the suffering that has led to this closed-off life.

Towards the end of the book, I was glad for the reprieve offered by the character of Fredrick’s daughter, Caroline. She has spent her life in her adopted family feeling different and out of place, and her eventual search and reunion adds a nice touch to the story. It became clear to me that Fredrick had so much love for Caroline, as well as his son, who doesn’t get to speak and yet is a pivotal character in the book. The fact that the story takes place in Australia added a little something for me, however, the story could have been set anywhere, and the sense of place was only evident to me during Caroline’s’ passages.

Caroline is very academically interested and involved with extinctions, and extinctions in general are a theme in the book, including several black-and-white photographs that at first appear to have no relation to the story. The reader is left to interpret what they are doing in the book, and there is a detailed explanation of the photos (but not their meaning) in the appendix. As you may have surmised, this is an unusual book!

As all good novels leave us filled with hope, or at least a sense of impending hope, this book is no exception. Jan, Fredrick’s indomitable, optimistic, and effusive neighbor is the light in his story. It is because of her spirit that it is likely Fredrick will not become another extinction.

This book is well worth reading, especially if one is in the mood for something a little different, with an ending not wrapped up tidily with a big bow. It is one that makes the reader think differently about the plain, older men we pass on the street every day.

I proudly give this book 4/4 Stars. Bookish and Proud

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