Secret Lives tells stories of friendship, crones, maidens and magic in late 20th century California. Oh, and there’s a talking cat which can slip between the worlds.
This is not a short book. And it has many, many characters, whose lives are interwoven. It can be difficult and complex to follow, because someone who played a minor role in one part of the book can crop up as a major character later. (There’s a very useful Who’s Who at the beginning of the book.)
But what a rewarding read it is!
The main setting is the Center Towers Retirement Residence, in Long Beach, California. We follow the lives of a circle of crones and their wider community as they realise their magical gifts and their wisdom are still very much needed in a world in which skinheads menace women on the streets and the medical community refuses to listen to old people about their own lives.
So the crones come out of retirement and begin using their magic for protection and for transformation.
The book has a very unusual structure in that each chapter is complete in itself. Almost like a book of short stories, but more closely interwoven and interrelated than that. The author refers to the book as having “braided stories” and this is an apt description.
The writing is very clever, moving smoothly from high comedy to high drama, with tension in all the right places, and expressing emotion without sticky sentimentality.
It raises very important questions about aging and how we treat old people, death, friendship, activism, love, and the theory and practice of magic (the book contains descriptions of several rituals).
Well worth reading.
You can find out more about Barbara Ardinger at her website, and read her wonderful commentary on her book (but not before you’ve read the book itself).