Author: Martine Lacombe
Publisher: Five Leaf Clover
Read: March 28-29, 2013
An endearing tale of unlikely friendship and compassion between two diametrically opposed individuals - a vibrant young woman and an elderly frail man - Silver Orphan illustrates that giving of yourself reaps untold benefits.
The subject matter covered in Silver Orphan is disturbing from a collective point of view. How we treat our elders, how we discard them - both in life and death - mirrors how we fare as a society. The old will soon outnumber the young - a chilling prospect treated with compassion in Silver Orphan. Interwoven in the stark reality of our superficial ethos is a story of love, redemption, and compassion. Silver Orphan should be included in ethics class curricula nationwide. A chance encounter; an unusual request; two lives inexorably transformed.
When self-absorbed Brooke Blake uncharacteristically sheds her narcissistic armor, she discovers that the hand we lend may pave the way to our own redemption. Silver Orphan is a perplexing hall of mirrors where every image reflects agonizing - though liberating - secrets.
When Brooke Blake, a young pharmaceutical sales rep with a general loathing for humanity at large, sees an elderly man stranded on the side of the road trying to hitch a ride, it touches some deep forgotten thread of compassion and humanity inside her and compels her to give the stranger a lift. Out of the chance encounter develops an unlikely friendship. For the following eight months, Brooke regularly visits 86-year-old Frank Moretti to take him to the supermarket and help him with his shopping. In return, Frank teaches her about the simple pleasures in life, such as Twinkies and the famous Philly Cheesesteak. Brooke, who is as hard on herself as she is on other people and affords herself few pleasures, is slowly transformed by Frank’s friendship, discovering the joys of really caring for someone other than herself.
One day Brooke receives a phone call from the hospital – Frank has collapsed in the street and has passed away. There is no information about any next of kin, with Brooke’s phone number the only contact details Frank had on his person. Determined to give Frank the send-off he deserves, Brooke sets out to track down some information about Frank’s past in the hope of finding family members. Her investigations – albeit against her better judgment - will lead her on a road to discovery about her friend’s life she had never expected…
I received a Galley copy of Silver Orphan directly from the author in exchange for an honest review. I admit that the title of “a social novel” initially conjured visions of something dry and lecturing, which to my pleasant surprise this novel was not. Despite Brooke being painted in a very unfavourable light in the opening chapters, I did enjoy her somewhat acerbic humour, which elicited many chuckles. At times this humour was self-deprecating, but quite often it provided comical musings about some of the frustrating or perplexing moments in life most of us can relate to.
“I nod in acceptance of the diversion and sadly note that I most certainly committed this useless trivia to memory, leaving less room for useful knowledge. Such are the vagaries of the mind.”
“If I were on a television show, the place would fall silent and the toothless locals would all turn toward me, threatening me with pickaxes and slinging catfish in my direction. This being real life, nobody gives me the time of day.”
The Brooke who is quoted as saying: “ I really don’t like people. I tolerate a few other human beings, but as a whole, I find the whole human race to be rather disgusting”, turns into a completely different person when she is around Frank, although she would never admit to any altruistic motives. The slowly developing friendship between these two very different people is heartwarming and inspires hope.
And of course I loved Frank – the intrepid octogenarian whose past is gradually being revealed in alternating chapters written in first person narrative from a younger Frank’s perspective. Interspersed with many interesting facts about Philadelphia during the Great Depression and the fate of Italian immigrants during WW2, Frank’s life story lends another very humane aspect to the novel. As a health professional I often witness the careless dismissal of our elderly, without giving credit to the rich lives they have led. I applaud Martine Lacombe to highlight this scourge of our time and society with this heartwarming story of friendship and redemption.
My only criticism would be the way young Brooke initially reacts to Frank’s death, which seems out of character even in her most obnoxious moments. A girl who has taken the time to ferry her elderly friend around town on a regular basis for eight months, and seems generally concerned about his welfare, would certainly have felt some sadness over his passing – I get that the author wanted to paint Brooke in an unfavourable light to highlight her growth as a person throughout the novel – however, at that point in the story she had already been touched and transformed to some degree by the relationship.
All in all I derived a lot of pleasure from reading this novel and it validated a lot of encounters I personally had with elderly people, both in my professional and in my private life. It is a shame that our elders aren’t more respected in our society, as we have so much to learn from them. Silver Orphan is about respect, friendship and growth. I closed the book with a feeling of hope for a better world.
I applaud the author for tackling this difficult subject and believe she has done it justice and presented it in a format which provided both entertainment value as well as food for thought. I look forward to reading more from this promising young author in the future.