Exit Lines

Exit Lines

Joan Barfoot

Language: English

Pages: 194

ISBN: B0031TZAPW

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


The Idyll Inn, the setting for Joan Barfoot’s brilliant eleventh novel, Exit Lines, is a pastel-hued care facility designed for seniors “with healthy incomes but varying hopes, despairs, abilities and deformities.” In scathing detail, Barfoot describes the Idyll Inn’s plastic plants, inoffensive art and pallid recreational activities, all familiar to any reader who has had occasion to visit such a place — or to live in one. Running the show (or so she thinks) is priggish administrator Annabelle Walker, charged with keeping the residents happy, or at least as happy as is required to keep a tidy profit flowing to far-away investors.

But not all residents of the Idyll Inn choose to acquiesce. Sylvia Lodge, one of the Idyll Inn’s first residents, prides herself on her steely backbone, despite crippling arthritis. Affluently widowed, she has selected the Idyll Inn as a less objectionable alternative to a perilous dwindling at home. She coolly refuses to be bossed, certainly not by Annabelle Walker (about whose family Sylvia keeps a dark secret), or by her estranged daughter, Nancy, from whom she keeps yet another, even more explosive, secret. Sylvia is determined to unapologetically lay claim to her lifetime of choices, responsibilities and blame, not yet aware that her icy solitude will shortly be broken by the company of three soon-to-be-intimate friends.

Given the facility’s small population, the Idyll Inn’s new inhabitants are bound to have crossed paths. And indeed many have. Wheelchair-confined George Hammond, once a handsome shoe store—owner with a stay-at-home wife and adored daughter, long ago cupped Sylvia’s feet in his hands and admired her well-formed calves. He has done far more with Greta Bauer, his former clerk, whose loneliness as a young immigrant widow with children rendered her available for a comfortable and seemingly uncomplicated affair. Now deposited under the same roof by absent children, the former lovers are in a position to reflect on the consequences of their choices.

Completing the newly formed coterie of friends is tiny Ruth Friedman, a retired Children’s Aid worker who keeps many of the city’s darkest secrets, and whose passionate late-in-life marriage to fellow social worker Bernard did not include children of their own. Now also widowed, her grief unfathomably deep, she has taken to cheerfully reading horrifying news stories aloud to her new friends, who are soon to discover that these daily doses of gloom are less for their edification than they are in service of a desperate project for which Ruth needs their complicity.

In the wryly funny and wholly compassionate Exit Lines, acclaimed author Joan Barfoot once again treats her readers to an intimate encounter with some fascinating characters engaged in the fight of their lives. Sylvia, George, Greta and Ruth are at times tender, angry, hilarious and deeply flawed, but always utterly and captivatingly human. How do we treat the elderly in our liveYs? How do we intend to grow old ourselves? Will we ever come to the end of longing? Exit Lines brings to the surface these and other fundamental questions about the nature of life, and its closing.

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Nancy. She used to be, if not exactly merry, more amusing, wasn’t she? In old laughing country club photographs, did she not look genuinely lighthearted? Now there’s rust in her voice, and it seems to have spread, as rust will, to more significant parts, and when did that happen? “Yes, we don’t want to waste the time we still have.” Easy for Ruth to say, never mind the grim tone. She has no children to wound, or be wounded by. “Your daughter cares to come a long way for you, George,” Greta

painful. “Expendability,” Ruth said, as if that explained anything. “The value of life. Anyone’s. What’s it worth, after all? What’s so sacred about it?” Which was a plain strange thing to say, especially for somebody whose job involved saving lives. All those things Ruth tells them they don’t know the half of. “No good!” George cried, meaning any number of things: that knowing does him no good, since these stories make his head hurt again, when he’s already here because of a stroke; that

thing. Now I think, no, we know more—we can know practically anything we set out to learn—so in some ways we’re smarter than, say, your average Neanderthal, but we’re no better. And there’s nothing better to look ahead to. There’s no chance of a magic moment when people will realize they could stop causing grief, there’ll just be the same old famines and slaughters and, okay, some rescues and acts of generosity here and there, on and on. Nothing, nothing at all, will ever be new, except perhaps

feel startlingly free, quite a relief. What can she say, as Sylvia and Greta work away at the exercising of George’s limbs, pushing and pulling, so they’ll feel Bernard? Without dangerously feeling too much herself, can she make plain any of the thousands of individual moments of joy? Can she speak about the smooth skimming of her hand over his body, soft as skin cream? Of the delicious, remarkable splendour of the rising penis, which anyway they must know? Of tracing moles—two close together

types and everybody else she can think of, campaigning for absolutely-no-cost-to-anyone birth control. In every place on earth, mind you. She says that’s the basic way to make women free, and she’s pushed for it all her life and isn’t about to stop just because of a bit of old age and blindness.” “Well, bully for her and her letters, and much good may they do her or anyone else. But I expect if she’s such a fan of freedom, she’d be bound to agree to mine, too.” “Maybe, but I bet she’d have some

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