REVIEW: LILLIAN ON LIFE, BY ALISON JEAN LESTER

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Lillian lived life on her own terms. What that meant, over the years, was that people came and went in her life. There were always men, relationships, and friendships, but they were in a constant state of flux. She had her work, she traveled, and she hoped to finally be with Ted, the love of her life, who was married.

Born in the 1930s in the Midwest, Lillian came of age in a time of changing roles and expectations. Despite the expectations of those around her, she remained single and childless. The story sweeps across time from the 30s into the 90s, when Lillian is around sixty-something.

Lillian on Life is her story, and she tells it in her first person narrative, in a non-linear style. Sections are divided into defining moments of her life, beginning in childhood and ending at a point in which she is reflecting about what comes next.

I like this section that sums up some of her conclusions:

“The culture shock of Europe knocked the ability to judge other people’s behavior right out of me. Nobody came from where I came from or felt what I felt, so I adapted. Gay men loved how unconventionally I lived, I think. But I wanted to get married and have children. That had been the plan. Lovers and wine, cigarettes and skinny black clothes–those were the detritus on the rings circling the planet of my dreams. I was in orbit and I couldn’t find my way across the void.”

My feelings about the book ranged from elation at the thrill of Lillian’s adventures to the sadness as she neared the end of her life. Her cumulative losses felt like a high price to pay for living on her own terms. A book that I will remember, but which is not one of my favorites. I recommend it for those who enjoy the narrative style that feels like a memoir, and delves into a person’s choices and reflections about them. 4.0 stars.


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