Divestment by Helene Wecker

Gerda Kohl is moving to a retirement home.  As part of the process she has to decide what she keeps and what she gives up, and she must contend with the memories these things dredge up.

Helene Wecker got my attention with her wonderful historical fantasy novel The Golem and the Jinni.  I’ve been patiently awaiting more from her, and it turns out this little short story — available only as an audiobook — slipped right under my radar.  Having discovered it, I was all over it without even knowing what it was about.

The ability to write a novel and the ability to write a short story are two very different end goals that rely upon the same skill sets.  Wecker proves to be adept at both.  While not quite crossing the line into historical fiction, Wecker offers a character study of a woman and the memories that define her life as it was, all the while adjusting to her new life among strangers.  There’s a sense of nostalgia  about this one for me.  Gerda is such a relatable character, perhaps too relatable.  She reminds me very much of one of my grandmothers, who went through a similar ordeal at a retirement home.  It’s familiar and uncomfortable as this character slips from memory and the bonds of human dignity.

I suspect that’s the entire point.  Wecker’s writing here is every bit as personal as it is in The Golem and the Jinni, so I strongly suspect she has gone through something similar in her own life with someone she knows and loves, choosing to deal with her emotion through this story.  Perhaps an effort to understand what it’s like for one in Gerda’s position?  Whatever the case, it works.  It works very well.

4 stars

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