Miriam Swanson never planned to find herself in a Manhattan townhouse, renting out parts of it to make ends meet. But after her husband Charles betrayed her, that's exactly where she was. Kevin, her tenant and best friend, asks, "What's going through your head, Miriam? You've got that look again." And she responds, "Everything. I'm middle aged, Kevin. The game's half over and somehow I never got what I wanted."
THE LAND OF MANGO SUNSETS tells the story of how Miriam is forced to reassess what she "wanted" and how she learns to appreciate the abundance that life has given her instead. Throughout the book this life-changing theme is repeated: When one door closes, another one opens. Every cloud has a silver lining. When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.
As a cynical New Yorker, this Pollyanna approach to life never occurred to Miriam. For example, despite her divorce, she continued trying to hold open the door of Manhattan society by extensive volunteering and hobnobbing with the matrons who dictate its rules. She saw no silver lining in having to rent her upstairs bedroom to a young woman whose company was a gentleman caller. And she certainly had no hope of making anything good out of the flawed relationships she had with her sons.
Yet, as she recognizes that change is necessary and with the help of her friends, she begins to let go of the beliefs that have not served her very well. The transformation that takes place will have readers cheering for this courageous woman and envying the goodies that life gives her once she becomes willing to admit that she has made mistakes and resolves to change.
Part of the change involves returning to visit her mother and rediscovering the charm of Sullivan's Island, which is the land of mango sunsets that she remembered from her childhood. Her relationship with her mother is one that every woman can relate to, either because she has one like it or wishes she did. Miss Josie appears to have taken up the green lifestyle, growing her own vegetables, raising chickens and getting her dairy products from Cecelia, her miniature goat. Her friend, Harrison Ford, is always around to help out and even begins Miriam's transformation by renaming her "Mellie." She thinks he's better looking than the movie star with the same name and starts wondering if there will be a Ford in her future!
The thing about memoirs, whether fictional or not, is that they are usually about rather unremarkable people who do some remarkable things. What makes them so enjoyable is when they are written by remarkable writers. Writers who pay attention to the smallest details of life, like a pet bird who repeats sentences with a sense of timing that Johnny Carson would appreciate. Like the nuances of love between friends. Like snappy New York dialogue from a middle-aged matron. Like a city girl trying to get a goat to cooperate with the milking process.
Dorothea Benton Frank is a remarkable writer, and THE LAND OF MANGO SUNSETS is a book that I'll always remember with a smile.
Reviewed by Maggie Harding on December 30, 2010
The Land of Mango Sunsets