In my twenties I travelled by train across America from Chicago to San Francisco. Keeping me company during the long hours of the night was A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. I remember sitting on my rucksack waiting for a connection at Flagstaff, tears rolling down my cheeks, as I read the last sentence. I know it off by heart, 25 years later.
Books that make this sort of impact are rare, a reminder of what really good writing is. I have just finished one such novel, Infinite Home by American author Kathleen Alcott. This is her second novel. It has in common with John Irving the power to make the reader laugh and cry at the same time. Set in New York, it tells the story of Edith, an elderly woman who owns a large, tumble down building in Brooklyn. Her tenants are a motley crew: Adeline, an agoraphobic, Thomas, an artist adjusting to life after a stroke, Edward, a one time stand-up comedian suffering from depression, Paulie, thirty-two, but with the disposition of an eight-year old, (a condition called Williams Syndrome) and his sister Claudia. As Edith starts to become confused, her incapacities growing each year, the residents realise that their home is at risk, and that they must face their uncertain future together.
This is a novel about individual pain, and the difficulties we all face in adapting to change. It is also about hope, and finding love in unexpected places. In the midst of all the messy confusion of individual lives, this is a profoundly uplifting novel, that rare thing: a piece of writing that makes us look at the world afresh.
Infinite Home by Kathleen Alcott is published in paperback this month.