Title: Practical Jean
Author: Trevor Cole
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books):
“Jean Vale Horemarsh is content, for the most part, with the small-town life she’s built: a semi-successful career as a ceramics artist, a close collection of women friends (aside from that terrible falling-out with Cheryl years ago), a comfortable marriage with a kind if unextraordinary man. But it is only in watching her mother go through the final devastating stages of cancer that Jean realizes her true calling. No one should have to suffer the indignities of aging and illness like her mother did—and she, Jean Horemarsh, will take it upon herself to give each of her friends one final, perfect moment . . . and then, one by one, kill them.
Of course, female friendships are quite complicated things, and Jean is soon to discover that her plan isn’t as simple as she initially believed it to be.”
Thoughts: Practical Jean is all dark comedy, and in the heart of that comedy lies some of the most heart-breaking pathos one will ever experience. Wickedly funny and refreshingly original, Trevor Cole manages to capture the beauty of friendship and the despair of aging at the same time. Definitely not for the more sensitive reader, Mr. Cole posits one’s duty as a friend and the very heated debate on the suitability of euthanasia.
On the surface, Jean is anything but practical. At least, that is what she has been told her entire life. Under the surface, however, her entire approach to life has been horribly pragmatic and sensible. Everything, from her career to her friendships, is a deliberate choice on her part, complete with fully comprehensible explanations for her actions. This is especially true of her choice to help protect her friends from the ravages of age and disease.
One is invariably drawn to Jean because she so obviously cares deeply about her friends. Setting aside her actions to focus on her intentions, she truly does not want them to suffer. It is one of the most selfless gestures one human can do for another. The fact that in order to prevent her friends from suffering leads to some gruesome scenes, thankfully kept fairly off-screen in order to let the reader’s imagination make the most of it, is both humorous and sad. For all her practicality, Jean has obviously not thought through the consequences of her actions.
Even more pathetic is her burgeoning relationship with Fran. Mr. Cole perfectly captures how difficult it is for adult females to make friends. The desperation that oozes out of Fran’s attempts to become friends with Jean are all too familiar for any female over a certain age. Fran’s and Jean’s scenes together are some of the funniest but also some of the saddest moments in the entire book.
Expecting something a little more tongue-in-cheek, Practical Jean was a welcome study on friendships and society’s focus on the practical over the whimsical. There is one particularly gut-wrenching scene involving a young Jean, her mother, and puppies which occurs fairly early in the novel and that haunts the reader for the rest of its pages. Sometimes, being practical is not the end-all, be-all that people make it out to be.
Practical Jean is humorous, wise in its satire, and ultimately somewhat depressing. Jean is a woman who loves deeply, who wants others to be happy and safe, and who has seen first-hand the horrors in store for the old and sick. She is trying to manage her desire to allow her friends to die in dignity while skirting the condemnation she knows she will get from others. We should all be so lucky to have at least one friend who cares about us so much.
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