Welcome to the TLC Book Tour for The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus
Holly is approaching her fiftieth birthday. She is a poet with a deadline about which her publisher keeps nagging her. If she doesn’t get her manuscript completed, she might be asked to return the advance payment she received.
Meanwhile, her mother, Myra, widowed many years ago, is eighty years old, living alone in Cinncinnati, and not doing well. Holly’s only child, Samantha, is preparing to graduate from high school and leave for college. If she gets admitted to the college of her dreams, she will be headed three thousand miles from home, leaving Holly with a very empty nest.
Holly’s husband, Michael, a painter, might be having an affair with the mother of one of Samantha’s best friends.
The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus is a look at approximately one year in Holly’s life. It is a pivotal year, to be sure. First, that big birthday is approaching quickly. Any woman who has passed that milestone will tell you that it is a whopper. A real mind-bender. And as with most women, the approaching birthday is accompanied by physical changes including hot flashes, as well as the emotional roller coaster that comes from having one’s hormones scrambled into a new configuration, and the realization that an entire segment of one’s life has ended. Holly cannot look at babies without bursting into tears because she knows that part of her life is now over, but she is not ready to be a grandmother. When her doctor tells her that she can stop using her diaphragm, her crazy cousin Alice gets drunk with her and torches it in one of the book’s early and most hilarious scenes.
Holly’s story is a narrative told through free verse, a highly unusual, but very effective technique. The various aspects of her life are explored sequentially through poetry.
I found myself wanting to write about the issues that were pressing in on me at the time — my hormones were taking me on a wild ride, my son was getting ready to leave for college, and I was way behind on the deadline for my book. . . . It began as a sort of memoir in poems, but I soon realized that the tale I wanted to tell wasn’t just my own story, but every woman’s story.~ Author Sonja Sones
Holly’s experiences are not unique or particularly shocking, but female readers will relate to her struggles and emotional reactions. For instance, her mother is diagnosed with a myositis, the inflammation of the skeletal muscles, and her attending physician, Dr. Hack, proposes to treat her with massive doses of steroids. Unfortunately, the steroids cause her to fly into rages and, to make matters worse, she is suffering from either dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, perhaps also caused by those medications. When Holly needs her mother’s love and support the most, her mother is confused, agitated, and being treated by a man who makes terrible jokes at which he chuckles annoyingly during Holly’s telephone conferences with him.
Meanwhile, Samantha is going to leave Holly and Michael alone with each other for the first time since her birth . . . and Holly is too depressed about Samantha’s departure and stressed about her ongoing writer’s block to enjoy either the solitude or opportunity to rekindle the romance in her marriage. Speaking of . . . she is highly suspicious that Michael is carrying on with the mother of one of Samantha’s best friends — a woman with a decidedly more toned and better preserved body than Holly’s. But Holly isn’t sure that she really wants to know the truth — at least not until after Samantha has departed to begin her first semester of college. Like all long-term marriages, Holly and Michael’s ebbs and flows, with Holly vacillating between wanting to collect Michael’s life insurance and flying into full panic mode before a medical emergency is revealed to be minor.
The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus is a quick read — often laugh-out-loud funny and frequently poignant. Reminiscent of Nora Ephron’s writing, Holly’s story won’t provide readers any life-altering revelations or searingly insightful new perspectives on menopause or a woman’s transition into her post-child-bearing and child-rearing years. But it is an enjoyable story of how one woman entered her fifties and found peace with the new composition of her life and family.