Monday, March 4, 2013

Silver Orphan, a social novel by Martine Lacombe

Occasionally (and hard to believe, I know) a book that makes me think does cross my desk. When that happens, I'm reminded that books not only provide a means of escapism from every day trials and tribulations, but can and should educate, prod and poke at one's conscience as well.  Silver Orphan, by Martine Lacombe is one of those books.

Silver Orphan is two stories. First, it's the story of Frank Moretti, an immigrant's son and now an elderly man living in Florida on his own with no family and seemingly no friends. The second story is Brooke Blakes'. She's a pharmaceutical rep who at first seems to have no social conscience at all. Self-absorbed and in it for the money and little else, Brooke is not looking to get involved, but she and Frank meet when she sees Frank hitchhiking on a Florida street. What happens in the course of the next eight months changes both of their lives.

While the story starts with Frank's death (not much of a spoiler here, you'll read about it on the very first page), Ms. Lacombe uses flashbacks to tell Frank's life story. Interspersed with those flashbacks, she allows us to see how Brooke and Frank's friendship begins to develop. We also follow Brooke's metamorphosis from what she was to someone who begins to care for people other than herself. We then follow her lone odyssey; an attempt to unravel the rest of Frank's story to find his next of kin.

While I thought her change of heart and willingness to get involved abrupt at times and possibly a bit too optimistic for reality, it serves its purpose. And that purpose is to bring attention to the problem of the elderly in this country, especially those without family support systems in place to help them meet basic life needs . Ms. Lacombe makes a strong argument in the Afterword, from which I garnered this: Unless we as a society undergo a figurative change like Brooke's, the large aging population in this country will experience an end of life scenario similar to Frank's. It's a point eloquently made even before we get to that Afterword.

Silver Orphan contains other lessons as well. Among them are a brief description of  how Big Pharma's reps work to get doctors to push certain drugs, and  a lesson, too, on the internment of Italian-Americans during WWII, something I did not know about. There are also two  surprising twists at the end, both of which serve exceptionally well in wrapping up our protagonists' stories.

Silver Orphan is a well-written, fast moving novel of social importance. Before we even realize what has happened, we've learned a lesson in a subject that's extremely difficult for us to face.  But we must all be more attuned to it no matter how painful the subject matter is if there are to be real changes in the treatment and caring of the elderly in this society. Silver Orphan is truly the spoonful of sugar that makes that particular medicine go down.

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