A Fitting Last Hurrah,
This review is from: To Sail Beyond the Sunset (Mass Market Paperback)
First, don’t tackle this book until you’ve read (as a minimum), Time Enough For Love, The Number of the Beast, and The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, as these four books actually form a series, and there are references to events and people in the first three that are crucial to understanding and enjoying this book. There are also references to several other Heinlein works, mainly Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (certainly recommend reading), but not totally essential to reading this one.
Having said this, and noting that the first three books are strongly science-fictionally flavored, this book may come as quite a surprise, as there is darn little sf content here except in the framing story around what is essentially an autobiography of one Maureen Johnson Smith, mother of Lazarus Long (aka Ted Bronson, aka Woodrow Wilson Smith, etc), following her life experiences from about 1893 to 1982 (on time-line two, which differs from our own to some degree after about 1941). As such, it paints a picture of those earlier times, the customs, technology, wars, societal fabric, economy, religion, biases, taboos, and prejudices present during this period, along with many historical events that many people are only dimly aware of. This picture is brightly painted and detailed (especially for the period of about 1900 – 1940), as Heinlein uses his considerable descriptive talents and easy-reading prose to great effect.
Maureen is quite a character, richly fleshed out, both via her inner thoughts and her shown interaction with several other people. Conventional she is not, and her attitudes towards sex may shock and disturb some readers (although if you’ve read the earlier books, these viewpoints will come as no surprise). But she is also a very practical woman, and her rules and precepts for living could form a strong backbone to almost anyone’s life. She is definitely a person, one you can get wrapped up in and care deeply about.
But like many of Heinlein’s later books, the emphasis on unconventional sex can become a problem with some readers, and I really think that, after having established Maureen’s thinking on this subject, he could have cut out several incidents about her sex life, as it does become somewhat repetitive and unnecessary. Also present are some of Heinlein’s dogmatic assertions about just how screwed up American society of the late twentieth century was (and still is, since the things he objected to are still very much present), patriotism, manners, lawyers, religion of almost any stripe, education, taxes, individualism versus the state, and a host of other subjects, although his discourse in these areas is a little less strident here than in some of his other late period books.
The outer framing story wrapped around Maureen’s life is something of a disappointment, as it adds little to the overall gestalt and does not have the detailed richness or action quota of many of Heinlein’s worlds/situations.
But still, this, his last book, is a warm, enfolding book, one that makes a fitting monument to his literary career, well worth reading even if you don’t agree with any of the espoused opinions.
---Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)