Award-winning professor and author, Rita Sommers-Flanagan has written a book that will charm, irritate, amuse, and engage readers. It will also change minds and lives. This novel provides an entertaining and excellent read for book clubs, families, and everyone contemplating the meaning of life.
The following highlights are from a conversation with Rita Sommers-Flanagan about her book, "Boomers." To hear the full conversation, click the link above or subscribe to our podcast.
Sarah Aronson: Why is there so much shame in our culture around aging?
Rita Sommers-Flanagan: I think it links directly to denial which robs us of a chance to live a great life, and we shame away about half of it.
Your sense of humor as a writer comes through. How did you find a way to navigate the serious topics with really funny moments?
I don’t know. I give my credit to the characters because I think they’re hilarious but they’re also very dear to me, of course. They just take these weird twists and turns themselves. I know it’s me and the muse in some embodied interaction, but when I finally figured out how to let them be who they were, the book just became really fun. Also, I could feel what was coming: the tough stuff and the tragedies. There are still parts of the book that when I read them, I start crying.
This book covers practical things like fiber for colon health, Medicare, care-taking of elders, Alzeihmers, wrinkles, teeth-whitening, and breast implants. Did you make a list of topics to cover about aging or was it more organic?
It was a lived experience. No, I did not make a list. I let myself live into the lists around me. My friends and I all get together and complain and whine. In those dark moments of your own soul, you know what you’re afraid of, and you know you really need to grapple with the practicalities—Advance Directives, Medicare rules, learning about estate planning—stuff none of us want to do because it links to mortality and it’s not fun. But we have to, it makes life so much better.
On your letterhead you identify yourself as: “Author, Psychologist, Poet, Dreamer.” What does it mean to be so authentic in your presentation of self, and what is your hope for others?
I got there by crashing into a cancer that was rare, aggressive, and scary . . . that one just changed the level of self-protectiveness I had lived with. . . It is a little bit scary to be so exposed. . . What fiction writer, what poet is not bleeding through those words? It’s part of the craft and if you’re not, I think the work’s probably not that good. I am happy to get to write those things about myself and a little intimidated.
I would say to other people: Don’t wait until you have some scary thing and you think you’re going to die Just take stock. You’re not going to live that long period, so enjoy it.
About the Book:
Over huckleberry pie on an otherwise idyllic afternoon in Missoula, Montana, a heated exchange provokes Millie, a disillusioned, sharp-tongued taxidermist into starting her very own Boomerhood self-help group. The arm-twisted enrollees are skeptical, but heck, what do they have to lose? Turns out, plenty. But even more to gain.
Boomer group is never dull. Dave and Millie continue their long habit of verbal sparring while Gabby’s unfiltered sexual commentary often derails Patty’s defensive knitting. The Death-Warmed-Over costume party is too much for Cooper. He quits, but Chris’s cancer diagnosis brings him back, deepening everyone’s relationships as they hash over everything from the meaning of life to the power of whiter teeth. Chris finds peace with her medical choices, but group members struggle to find ways to support her. Seizing life by the throat, twitchy old George buys a van, refurbished by a hippie survivalist, and christens it The Beast. The Boomers embark on an unforgettable bucket-list trip to the Space Needle.
There’s no escaping it. Aging involves facing a dismissive culture, preoccupations with bowel movements, diminished capacities, and ultimately, death. But with hutzpah and irreverence, the Boomers fight back. The casualties make the triumphs all the sweeter. This sad and funny story offers some heart-wrenching, heart-warming routes through terrain we will all traverse.
About the Author:
Rita Sommers-Flanagan is an author, gardener, dreamer, clinical psychologist, and award-winning professor emeritus from the University of Montana. With her co-author husband, she has published many professional books and articles. Boomers is her first fiction adventure. She call herself a dual citizen--living part-time on each side of the continental divide. She loves the good energy of Missoula and the rich solitude on the banks of the Stillwater River. While working on the sequel to Boomers, she also occupies her time hanging out with her children and grandchildren, building passive solar houses, writing blogs, and engaging in various activist causes.