The Old Place
by Bobby Finger
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Pub Date 20 Sep 2022 | Archive Date Not set
PENGUIN GROUP Putnam, G.P. Putnam's Sons
A bighearted and moving debut about a wry retired schoolteacher whose decade-old secret threatens to come to light and send shockwaves through her small Texas town.
Billington, Texas, is a place where nothing changes. Well, almost nothing. For the first time in nearly four decades, Mary Alice Roth is not getting ready for the first day of school at Billington High. A few months into her retirement—or, district mandated exile as she calls it—Mary Alice does not know how to fill her days. The annual picnic is coming up, but that isn’t nearly enough since the menu never changes and she had the roles mentally assigned weeks ago. At least there’s Ellie, who stops by each morning for coffee and whose reemergence in Mary Alice’s life is the one thing soothing the sting of retirement.
Mary Alice and Ellie were a pair since the day Ellie moved in next door. That they both were single mothers—Mary Alice widowed, Ellie divorced—with sons the same age was a pleasant coincidence, but they were forever linked when they lost the boys, one right after the other. Years later, the two are working their way back to a comfortable friendship. But when Mary Alice’s sister arrives on her doorstep with a staggering piece of news, it jeopardizes the careful shell she’s built around her life. The whole of her friendship with Ellie is put at risk, the fabric of a place as steadfast as Billington is questioned, and the unflappable, knotty fixture that is Mary Alice Roth might have to change after all.
Available on NetGalley
What a lovely novel. I’m a fan of Bobby Finger’s podcast, but when I read the description for this book I wasn’t sure how his voice would translate. I needn’t have worried, as I loved this too. It is the perfect warm, cozy read to curl up with, and I appreciated how the characters were all human - the protagonist is prickly and downright mean at times, but I found her so much more interesting than a basic, uncomplicated heroine. I hope Bobby writes more books!
Wow - I really, really enjoyed this one. This book has so much heart and is grounded in Bobby's obvious love for his home state of Texas. This is an excellent family drama about secrets and lies in the small town of Billington, and the impacts of one family's secrets on the town at large.
Mary Alice has lived in Billington all her life, where she's taught for decades, yet didn't get retire on her own terms. She is the queen bee in town, but only because everyone is afraid of her stinger. As we head into the weekend of the church's annual picnic, all her secrets come home to roost and threaten her carefully constructed life. Also, the correct way to make potato salad is a plot point, as it should be, because people screw it up all the time! (Josie's pool may be a Them, but she's obviously a Who.)
Bobby writes so beautifully about the lives of everyday people, especially friendships between women. This would be an excellent pick for a book club. Thanks to Penguin Putnam and NetGalley for the e-ARC.
Oh my god. I don’t even know how to describe this, I don’t want to give anything away because this book just unravels in this phenomenal way and I would never want to ruin or spoil any piece of it. This is probably my favorite book I’ve read this year. It is funny and heartbreaking and the ability to create these deeply rich characters with just a paragraph or two, but then also continuously reveal more and more about them? *chefs kiss*
I’m a huge fan of Bobby’s podcast and definitely went into this primed to like it but I was not prepared to be this blown away. The main character is…difficult and I don’t think she’ll be for everyone but she’s still treated with such empathy. And honestly the story is so much bigger than her, the whole ensemble is just phenomenal, and the story itself seems to know when she’s important to it and when she’s not.
The writing can sometimes feel a little bit circumlocutious (I definitely had to pause and re-read a few times throughout to double check what exactly was going on or who was speaking) but that’s more of a stylistic choice and not inherently a bad thing. And it’s still so sharp and evocative.
I’m worried I’m rambling here, it’s just so hard to put into words. I don’t want to overhype it because I want everyone to be able to experience it as this wonderful surprise but I just like this book so much and I can’t wait for it to come out so I can talk to everyone about it!