29: A Novel
by Adena Halpern
At seventy-five, Ellie Jerome is an old woman. She’s stylish and charming, vivacious and young-at-heart…but still, her days of youth and beauty are distant memories. At her seventy-fifth birthday party, Ellie blows out her birthday cake’s candles and wishes that she could be twenty-nine once again for a single day. Just for a while, Ellie would like to see what her life would have been like if she’d been born fifty years later, and taste the independence her granddaughter Lucy enjoys. The next morning, Ellie wakes up and discovers that her wish has come true. For one glorious day, she is free to enjoy life as a single twenty-something, with Lucy as her delighted guide to being young in the 21st century.
Through the book, modern Ellie’s ‘girly’ adventures – getting a ‘young’ haircut, going shopping for thong underwear, and catching a date with one of Philly’s most eligible young bachelors – are interspersed with her memories from being in her twenties the first time around, back in the 1950s. She never seriously considered going to college; young Ellie’s goals were to marry well and support her husband by being a perfect hostess and mother. By contrast, at twenty-five Lucy studied fashion in New York City and is an up-and-coming designer. Marriage doesn’t seem to be anywhere on her horizon, let alone children. I don’t want to say Ellie is jealous of Lucy, because that has a negative connotation that simply isn’t present in the character, but she wonders what kind of person she would have been if she had been given the same opportunities her granddaughter enjoys today. Her adventures also help Ellie deal with the conflicted feelings she’s had about her dead husband, Howard, who loved and provided for her but also cheated on her.
29 was a very entertaining novel. Ellie’s light and breezy narrative flows very quickly, making it a fun poolside read or perfect for a mid-length plane flight. Yet this is also a thoughtful look at the stages of a woman’s life and how the world around us shapes us in our generation. I’m sure it’ll be made into a movie quickly, possibly starring Meryl Streep and the reigning queen of summer romance, Amanda Seyfried.
I kind of wish more of the stories in Maiden, Matron, Crone (reviewed last week) had been like this. We have the three aspects of the Feminine represented in Ellie, her daughter Barbara and Lucy, and all three women highlight both the strengths and weaknesses of her age.
4 stars out of 5