Longtime readers will be well aware of my love for Laurie Graham. Gone With the Windors is one of my all-time favourite books and while reading Paula Byrne’s biography of Kick Kennedy I’ve been reminded again how good her historical research is. It’s been seven years since she wrote a contemporary novel, but the Early Birds is her first sequel and is actually a return to the group of women we first met in Future Homemakers of America, which came out more than 15 years ago.
For those who haven’t read the first book, the gang were brought together by a coincidence of geography in the 1950s. Most of them were US airforce wives, posted to Suffolk along with their spouses. One, Kath, was a local they met on a trip off-base. That’s all you really need to know. The Early Birds rejoins them in American in at the turn of the millennium when the ladies are in their 70s. Peg is moving across the country to help with the care for her ex-spouse. Old age is catching up with the gang, but their friendship and their sense of fun endures. Then 9/11 happens and the world changes and there are lots of new questions – not least was life as an air force wife worth it?
My favourites of Laurie Graham’s books tend to be the laugh out loud funny ones. This is more a wry smile and the occasional giggle sort of book, but it is a wonderfully touching portrait of female friendships and camaraderie that has endured through time, distance and changing circumstances, forged in the shared terror of what could happen to your husband while he was flying a jet plane – and what would happen to you if the worst did happen. They don’t all like each other all the time, they sometimes enjoy a bitch about each other, but when something bad happens to one of them, they’ll move heaven and earth to help.
There’s not much to smile about in Peg’s husband’s descent into Alzheimer’s, but those passages of the book do capture a lot of what I remember about my grandparents when the were suffering from dementia. I was never as involved in their care the way that Peg is, but I remember the sadnesses and the frustrations of people forgetting who you are and the adaptations that you make to try and make more days “good” days.
I probably should have re-read Future Homemakers before I read this, and I’m probably going to go back and read it again now I’ve seen the girls dancing through their dotage. The world needs more books about strong women supporting each other.
You should be able to get a copy of The Early Birds from all the usual sources – like The Big Green Bookshop and the like – but you may need to order it. IIt’s in hardback at the moment – but there’s a large format airport paperback as demonstrated in the photo! And of course it’s also available on Kindle and Kobo. Future Homemakers of America is also available on Kindle and Kobo – and new and second-hand copies can be found on Amazon (I think it may be out of print as it’s showing as out of stock everywhere else I search).