Fifty-three-year old Colleen Gallagher has gone through her fair share of personal loss. Not only widowed at a young age, she was also left to care for her young family while pregnant with her third child. Now a few years after caring for and then finally losing her ailing mother, Colleen plans to run interference for her daughter Sandy and family since Sandy is close to expecting her second child. But on the day of her arrival, Colleen learns the horrible truth that her son-in-law Tony has been diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and is told that he has only one year to live. Although Colleen knows that tough times are ahead for Sandy and her family, she is unaware just how tough they will be.
Based on her own familial experiences, award winning author Marylee MacDonald hits upon the unexpected within the cycle of life. A story of hope amid tragedy, MacDonald's first person narrative features Colleen, a middle-aged woman who has other plans in mind for this next phase in her life. Yet in the midst of creating her principal character, MacDonald throws in an interesting cast (many of who have dysfunctional qualities of one form or other)—a mix of family, friends, neighbors, medical people, and strangers—that together turns her well-scripted plot into a more realistic extension of Seinfeld. While painting the story's environs with the same emotional intensity that reflects the dismal circumstances in Sandy's family, MacDonald manages to remold what could be considered a dystopian theme into dark comedy.
Clearly, Tony's body is deteriorating rapidly. Yet the sarcastic comments that come out of this dying man keep Colleen and others constantly hopping, which creates a slew of comedic scenes. MacDonald does not stop there, though. The interactions between characters are most often edgy since there is constant tension in the air as everyone is trying to help Tony and the family out. And as tension continues to rise, Colleen finds herself in the crossroads between the present and the past. MacDonald does an excellent job of zeroing in on a the unresolved issues of Colleen's traumatic past, folding in various situations that force her to take a deeper look at herself. One situation, in particular, is Colleen's encounter with seventeen-year-old Esmeralda, who randomly shows up at Colleen's house looking for housing. Colleen begins to grow closer to Esmeralda—something that she feels that she never truly accomplished with her own daughter Sandy. MacDonald's use of this foiled character is superb since Esmeralda is a key element in Colleen's introspection.
Overall, MacDonald's presentation of familial situations in the midst of crisis is very realistic since family member's true colors come out, and MacDonald's portrayal of family dynamics is nothing less than superb. MacDonald folds all the aforementioned elements together and then deftly incorporates them into alternating scenes between Colleen's present and past thoughts. Employing a thought-provoking ending, Montpelier Tomorrow is an exceptional read. A mix of sadness and humor, it is indeed a story that should be read many times.
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