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Final Payments Paperback – June 6, 2006
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When Isabel Moore's father dies, she finds herself, at the age of thirty, suddenly freed from eleven years of uninterrupted care for a helpless man. With all the patterns of her life suddenly rendered meaningless, she turns to childhood friends for support, gets a job, and becomes involved with two very different men. But just as her future begins to emerge, her past throws up a daunting challenge.
A moving story of self-reinvention, Final Payments is a timeless exploration of the nature of friendship, desire, guilt, and love.
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These are the questions before Isabel Moore upon her father's demise. She had loved him, looked up to him, and now she must create a new life without him.
Isabel's friends Liz and Eleanor begin to step forward to aid in this metamorphosis. But it's Liz's husband John who offers Isabel an opportunity for a job she seems well-suited for. A job assessing the caretakers of the infirm, who are doing so with a government stipend.
First she must sell her family home, but she does so; she moves into a small apartment in the suburban town where she will work.
Another side-effect of Isabel's new life includes the reawakening of her sexual being. Two men become a part of her new life, but in an oddly unexpected way, the men bring about a self-doubt that will ultimately result in Isabel's turning away from her new life and returning to a life of self-sacrifice. But will she find what she seeks? Or will she ultimately decide that self-sacrifice is not the answer after all.
I enjoyed this passage which describes the conflicts Isabel faced in her new life as she was struggling to decide if she should go forward with her lover Hugh, whose wife had unleashed her fury upon Isabel in a very public way:
"There had been a gradual darkening in the background of my life with Hugh since he had first suggested leaving his wife. But after she had publically accused me of theft I began to accept the identity of a thief. I lived as though I had been forced into a hideout. It was February; the light was bad, as I imagined the light to have been bad in wartime London. I was afraid to go out of the house. It took a new kind of courage for me to go about the business of my daily life. I drove around the supermarket several times before I went in, trying to calculate the possibility of meeting anyone who had been at the party. In the years that I lived as the daughter of my father I had always been greeted with reverence and delight by shopkeepers, by people carrying groceries. I was the good daughter. I took care of my father. I had nothing to fear. Faces were open to me, for mine, they believed, was the face of a saint. Now faces would be closed to me, and I myself would learn to close my face...As the daughter of my father I was above reproach....."
Exploring themes of good vs. bad; the pull of desire weighed against the unique place of self-sacrifice in one's life; and the joys of the flesh contrasted with the possible rewards of giving to others, especially the undeserving--these provocative issues, and characters acting out these issues, populate this very compelling novel. Final Payments is all about what can happen when one makes choices, and it's also about the consequences of those choices.
I could not help but award this wonderful book five stars. I would recommend it to anyone who is a fan of Mary Gordon's work, as well as those who enjoy the exploration of these issues.
Disposing of stuff is simple compared to deciding what to do with her life. Her friends try to help, but she must do this for herself. When she was her father's caregiver the church rewarded her with the "good girl" label. Even though she had already given up her Irish Catholic faith, she took comfort in being known as good.
Isabel struggles with ethics and morality in a world without her father, and without the restraints of her childhood faith. She relishes sensuality. She has sex with her friend's husband, and then falls in love with another married man. Shocked at her own behavior she fights to make up for her sins. She needs purification. Her self-imposed punishment is to live with, and become caretaker for her old housekeeper Margaret Casey, a repulsive witch of a woman, whom she has hated since childhood. She reasons if she can overcome her hatred for Margaret, she will be redeemed. A nun once told Isabel she didn't have to like someone to love them in God. But Isabel never understood this. How could she love Margaret if she didn't even like her?
Mary Gordon, through the consciousness of Isabel, looks for answers to living a good life, a life of pleasure, of love, of pain, of loss--a life of meaning. She tells the truth about Catholicism, the place of women in the church, the gospel's mandate to love human beings. Her conclusions are sensitive and intelligent. Final Payments is real. It is about human redemption, but has no absolute answers.