A little perspective about the main character to set the scene before I get rolling along. Edith’s favourite cookie is shortbread, but not just any shortbread, Walkers Pure Butter Shortbread cookies. Forget all the glitz and glamour brought on by sprinkles and icing, sometimes the best things in life are best achieved with simplicity. This is the key trait that brings out the antagonist in our predominant protagonist Edith Macefield.
This is a story of friendship between two strangers that become unlikely friends. In my mind if you take away some of the particulars such as age and the conflict of interests, this is essentially a love story. But not in the prototypical sense of your vivid imagination that you may be accustomed too while perusing the rinky-dink shelves of your drugstore paperbacks section. The majority of the time when you say love story you hear of rugged,successful, self-assured, and dominant men named Shae, Rider, kennedy, Riley and Addison…you get the picture. The woman are usually elegant, buxom, ageless, and social butterflies named Shae, Rider, Kennedy, Riley and Addison… again enough said. The love for each other in this scenario is purely physical and fraught with bickering, contention and ultimately the all important makeup sex. What you get in Under One Roof is physical in its own ways, but focuses more on the emotional benefits that derive from their budding relationship.
“It was a nice feeling. Like starting out on a long walk, and knowing you’re headed in the right direction.”
At the start of the book Barry is in a weird spot in his life. He was abruptly let go of his 10 year project superintendent job due to business shutdown brought on by economic instability. He instantly took a job building assisted-living facilities.Immediately thereafter he received a call from his buddies that wanted “to get the band back together” and form a new project development firm called Ledcor. He accepted and from that point going forward Barry would never be the same man. Within the scope of his immediate family, his children are also dealing with their own personal crisis from the standpoint of being early adolescence in high school transitioning to independent living away from the nest. Meanwhile his parents are also at their own crossroads from happy retirement living to the eventuality of health problems and the erosion of life skills. You would think that a man with this much on his plate wouldn’t need anymore unnecessary distractions? Taking on these distractions allows one tough and trying woman to prepare a man to better handle the internal conflicts that are coming his way as his own parents approach that tender age.
This unique and heartfelt story takes place in Ballard, Washington spanning the years of 2005 to 2007. In this tale of grace and compassion you have a fiftysomething year old construction supervisor named Barry Martin and the resident octogenarian retired renaissance woman named Edith Wilson Macefield. There certainly are bouts of contention within this relationship. In the same breath the physical nature between the two involves: the administration of oral medication, the injection of insulin, the maintaining of personal hygiene and a goodbye kiss on the forehead. In every relationship their is a fair bit of give and take, and the one between Barry and Edith is no different. The objects of affection will give Edith peace and tranquillity during her final time on earth, while what Barry receives will stay with him for the rest of his life.
One of the most memorable features of the novel was the heartfelt letter from Barry’s daughter Kelsey to her father. This was proof that his direct decision making had a positive indirect influence on the tailoring of a “true human being”. As a father, the pride is tangible, as a potential father I hope my children learn the importance of thinking of others and following their heart. And you are right Barry, you don’t get any luckier in life than that. Edith kept Barry on a string by always revealing little bits of information at a time. When courting woman I always thought that you should “always leave them wanting more” before they get sick of you. The way Edith kindly played Barry like a fiddle reinforces this thought and the power of mystery and intrigue, but also made me dislike her a little bit. Another interesting element of the story was the dichotomy of change Edith faced on a daily basis. At times she was fully accepting of her limitations of normal activities, on the other hand she resisted. Barry’s responsibility in easing this matter is a learning experience for all.
Personally, over the course of their relationship, I would have not been able to handle the constant attack of my “weakness” that she delivered. My preference is to treat the elderly with the utmost respect, by developing a friendship you lose track of the limitations and treat them as “human beings” which in some cases they want. When they start playing both sides of the fence, that’s when I have an issue, and I am sure we would’ve butted heads on more than one occasion. Congratulations to Barry for staying the course, biting his tongue, and maintaining a stiff upper lip.
This book was reminiscent of one of my favourite movies Big Fish. The relationships are a little different, the way they treat each other is less compassionate, but the long lasting impressions are all too similar. A way in which one man’s so called life can live on forever through the art of the fantastic and the true value of storytelling in broaching a child’s unconditional love, is one that is very comparable to this novel. I recommend this book to anyone that enjoys a homey, down-to-earth story with plenty of emotion and a lot of life lessons to go around.
“I had to put those feelings away, had to let him return to being a man, to the
pride that his age owns, and needs, and demands, because in many ways it is the one thing that holds him in place while the world is starting to crumble and turn around him.”