A new novel, funny, wise, moving, true, as only Lisa Alther can write (“she had me laughing at 4 in the morning”–Doris Lessing), set on a cruise ship, about a woman, a doctor, in charge of the ship’s clinic, recovering from the loss of her longtime female lover, a much-admired writer, and coping with the high-wire madcappery of cruise ship life as she reckons with her past and feels her way into the future.
Dr. Jessie Drake, in her mid-sixties, following the sudden deaths of her parents and Kat, her partner of twenty years, has fled the Vermont life she has known for decades.
In an effort to escape the oppressive constancy of grief, she accepts a job from an old flame from her residency in New York City’s Roosevelt Hospital, and agrees to assist Ben as the ship’s doctor on a British liner. Jesse boards in Hong Kong and as the Amphitrite sails throughout Southeast Asia and the Middle East, cruise ship antics ensue. Jessie is lulled back into a long-ago romance with the ship’s co-doctor, and both she and her new/old beau become enmeshed with the ship’s lead (female) singer/entertainer. Among the passengers who fling socialized behavior aside on the high seas: a former Florida beauty queen (Miss Florida Power and Light) on a second honeymoon with her husband, as she causes high-velocity scandal, while juggling onboard affairs with a suicidal golf pro, and a defrocked priest hired as the liner’s ‘Gentleman Host’, until she vanishes–poof!–from the ship off the coast of Portugal . . . As the ship sails through the Gulf of Aden, and into a possible hijacking by Somali pirates, Jessie retreats into her lover’s journals, written during her final months, journals filled with sketches of potential characters, observations on life and love–as well as drafts of a long new poem in-progress, “Swan Song,” that seems to be about being in love with someone else, someone new. As Jessie’s grief turns to suspicion about the woman she thought she knew so well, her illumination of the poem’s meaning begins to lift the constraints of the past and make clear the way toward the future.
LISA ALTHER was born in 1944 in Tennessee. She is widely known for her first novel, Kinflicks (1975), a feminist coming-of-age narrative that broke new ground in terms of what could be written and talked about. She is the author of seven additional works of fiction, a memoir, and a narrative history of the Hatfield-McCoy feud. Her books have been published in seventeen languages and have appeared on bestseller lists worldwide.
“In Swan Song, [Alther] utilizes one of literature's--and religion's--principal motifs, that of the journey/pilgrimage…. Despite the gravity of many of the themes Swan Song addresses, Alther infuses the book with delightful comic elements…. Be assured that Lisa Alther is an entertaining, yet challenging guide on this well-crafted voyage of self-transformation and yearned-for societal change.”
- A! Magazine for the Arts
“[Swan Song] is a meditation on loss and longing and late-middle age that manages, thanks to Alther’s vivid prose and indomitable protagonist, to be as charming, amusing, and enticing as her debut [Kinflicks]…. [There is] a madcap ensemble cast of secondary characters (reminiscent of Agatha Christie in her prime).”
- Chattanooga Times Free Press
“Alther has written a female coming-of-age tale that’s bound to resonate profoundly with those who are, like Jessie, in their ‘young old age.’ Those who aren’t yet there will relish the novel’s wit, erudition, and charm, which come through on every page.”
- Fernanda Moore, Chapter 16
“The language is so delicious I keep re-reading each chapter just to savor it again." --Janis Ian, singer-songwriter of "At Seventeen" and "Society's Child"
"Alther has looked into the heart of late-in-life grief and divested it of the maudlin; the result is something smarter, darker, and better."
- Shelf Awareness (starred review)