Out of the Pumpkin Shell
Author: Nancy Werking Poling
Reviewed By: Anne Holmes for the NABBW
This is a book every woman facing midlife should read.
It is a story about two recently retired friends, Elise and Hattie (“Hat”), who have just ended (more like imploded) their Chicago school-teaching careers. Leery of the future, especially the part about their impending menopause, they decide to take a journey to Bryson Mills, Indiana, birthplace of Elise\’s mother, Rose. Elise wants to make the trip in order to confront some unfinished family business. And good friend Hat goes along to keep her company.
Shortly after their arrival, they serendipitously meet two old friends of Elise\’s mother, Stella May and Margaret. These ladies hold keys to a past very different from the one Elise remembers. Though it isn\’t easy, they help Elise rewrite the stories she was told about her mother, who still lives there, in a mental health facility.
There are huge themes addressed in this book. Among them: women and friendship, mothers and daughters, aging and becoming wise. It is also clearly about courage and survival, especially in the face of spousal abuse.
But despite all the heavy themes it addresses, it manages to do so with candor and laughter. For example, it opens with Hattie, the narrator, explaining that she ends her daily morning showers with a bracing two minute cold shower – because her best friend Elise has told her that doing so will help her to keep her breasts from sagging! Though she quickly admits that time has proven it not to be an effective technique…
As you read it you may find yourself laughing out loud at times, especially because author Poling writes so candidly and realistically about women getting older…..and better…and throwing caution to the wind in order to find truth! The story of how they tear down a wall in an ancestral house will have you in stitches.
But you may also shed a few tears as you read: Poling writes authoritatively about loss, betrayal, abandonment and abuse from many angles; weaving together a complex story full of realistic characters you will find yourself wishing to meet.
In short, the truth they help Elise expose is painful, but Hattie helps her face it head on. In the process, both women find new freedom.
Like all good mysteries, this is a “page-turner,” complete with a final crisis. It is a wonderful book, wise in its discussions of friendship and sisterhood, full of laughter and insight, and sure to bring you the pleasure that comes from being truly absorbed in a good book.