Book Review: Florence Gordon

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One novel I frequently saw throughout 2014 was Florence Gordon. It came with high praise from many as well, so it was certain I would reach for it at some point.  Normally, if I can easily find a book in its audio format, I will turn first to that format. In seeking out Florence Gordon I ended up purchasing it on my Audible account, as it was not appearing (at that time) in any of our library sources.

This was to be the first audiobook of 2015 and I had high expectations for it being a success, just as many of the audiobooks I enjoyed in 2014 were for me. Sadly, no, that was just not the case. I knew from the reviews for Florence Gordon that it contained many moments of poignancy and delight from Florence’s acerbic voice and the other characters. However, the audio was just not working out for me and I knew if I continued listening to it, I would grow to dislike the book. After another library search, I did find it available in e-book. Excellent news! I quickly switched to that format and was very pleased with that decision.

Meet Florence Gordon: blunt, brilliant, cantankerous and passionate, feminist icon to young women, invisible and underappreciated by most everyone else. At seventy-five, Florence has earned her right to set down the burdens of family and work and shape her legacy at long last. But just as she is beginning to write her long-deferred memoir, her son Daniel returns to New York from Seattle with his wife and daughter, and they embroil Florence in their dramas, clouding the clarity of her days with the frustrations of middle-age and the confusions of youth. And then there is her left foot, which is starting to drag.

In addition to Florence, we also meet her son Daniel, his wife Janine and daughter, Emily. Each of these characters has their own strong voice in the novel and are immensely enjoyable. Morton has crafted wholly realized and believable characters. Florence and her son Daniel have a somewhat complicated relationship, one that Daniel knows is due to her distaste in his career choice. Janine is someone Florence simply cannot abide by with her insufferable, barely contained, adoration for Florence. But it is her relationship with her granddaughter Emily that makes for many enjoyable moments throughout this story.

Each is given time of their own to speak their voice here, it is not just solely Florence’s voice, or her perspective. That was something of a surprise for me, I was expecting to hear from Florence only, but this was not a bad surprise at all. I thoroughly enjoyed Daniel’s and Emily’s chapters but less so Janine’s. Janine spends the majority of her time wishy-washing about considering to have an affair or not and, as Florence describes her, she is a tad on the insufferable side.

I did however thoroughly enjoyed Florence’s cantankerous personality. I loved her perspective (and her barely concealed hatred) for her distaste of the “blackberry” or “iPhone” culture. It is brought up a few times and it’s quite spot on. One time, during a dinner with her friends, she dropped her friend’s blackberry into the sangria after requesting a number of times for her to please put it away. When she failed to listen, into the drink it went! A second time occurred during her meeting with her new (hipster) editor, and Florence noticed how he casually took out his iPhone in the middle of their conversation to read a few messages and write a few messages.

“It was remarkable, the way people interrupted their conversations with you to do this sort of thing, without a word of apology. It had become as natural as taking a sip of water.” (Florence, p. 60)

Her acerbic wit had me laughing out loud often and her direct, no-holds-barred frankness constantly put a smile on my face. The exchange included below, perfectly sums up how to expect to be spoken to by Florence.

“I haven’t taken an interest in you. You said some things and I told you what I thought. I probably won’t ever think about you again after you drop me off.”

“You’re brutal,” Dolly said. “But I appreciate it.” (Exchange between Florence and a woman named Dolly)

I quite enjoyed Florence Gordon, both the character and the overall book, yet it is not one that has stayed with me after closing. It was a very good and solid read for certain, highly enjoyable with many poignant moments, but I do not think it is a stand out read or will be considered as one of the best books I’ve read this year. Overall, I’m firm with my 3.5 star rating – a very good read. (And please, should you choose to read Florence Gordon, pick up the hard copy of the book. The audio does not give it the justice it deserves. Those wonderful poignant moments would be lost, I’m afraid, by the quickly read narration, not giving you the time to pause and consider the words/thoughts.)

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