Lily Steps Out
By Rita Plush
Penumbra Publishing, $10.99 (paperback); $2.99 (Kindle)
When Lily Gold’s retired husband Leon has a heart attack, the 55-year-old Jewish mother is shaken with the reality that she wouldn’t know what to do with herself if he had died. A dutiful wife of more than thirty years with a successful son, Lily wants a legacy of her own, outside of the home.
I commend Plush for putting the reader in the middle of a mess, piecing together the facts that drive Lily to look for a job, but the first chapter is a rough start with too many flashbacks. Plush is anxious to help the reader along in understanding Lily’s change in attitude, from housewife to working woman. Flashbacks are tricky. Although they help to justify a character’s actions, they are inherently old news.
After Lily has sex with her husband, her mind wanders from the frantic drive to the emergency room to save Leon, to a conversation with her spunky friend talking some sense into her, “June Cleaver traded in her apron for a brain and a briefcase a long time ago,” to when Leon and Lily first met.
The latter worked better much deeper into the story, when Lily and Leon go head-to-head as she fights for independence to run her own antique store, because the reader has lived through Lily’s accomplishments and setbacks with her, and can appreciate the delicacy of Lily’s challenge to choose between her marriage and the dream she never knew she wanted.
The story evolves into a stronger, controlled voice between Lily’s wise cracks, Yiddish nature, and strong-willed personality. Joyce Carol Oates calls Plush's voice shrewd, sharp, funny, and yet tender.
Lily lands a saleswoman position at an antique store and the flashbacks tone down. Walter, who lacks sociable skills and lives in the store basement, recognizes Lily’s trained eye to spot valuable merchandise and employs her on a tight leash.
Finding a job was only the beginning and it seems as is if every man is intimidated under Lily’s unwavering energy. Leon is afraid of losing the life he had with Lily to look after him, Larry resents his mom’s new job breaking up the family, and Walter appears to dislike Lily’s better business skills.
The development of Walter and Lily’s relationship is honest, poignant and humble. A man plagued with guilt from a fatal accident is healed, when he confides in Lily, who in turn becomes more compassionate.
Leon breaks Lily’s trust several times, trying to manipulate her into returning to her old place at his side. Plush is careful not to overdo Leon's path to redemption. Lily isn’t just another naïve wife. She sizes him up and goes to war, and the reader is on the edge of their seat, wondering how far she will go to be her own woman.
Plush herself married at 19 and was a homemaker for much of her young adult life. “I stepped out when I was 35,” Plush said. “I always knew I was smart, but I didn’t feel educated. There was something about people who graduated from college and it was something I wanted.”
She studied at Queens College and completed an undergraduate degree in English literature, and, at 56, she finished a master’s degree in creative writing at the same institution. Plush also studied interior design at Queensborough Community College.
Now Plush, 75, is an interior designer and accomplished author, having published multiple essays and short stories in journals, including the Alaska Quarterly Review and The MacGuffin.
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