Despite becoming a literary success in the twilight of her life, Lily Robertsremains a cold, enigmatic figure to her son Alan. 4 cassettes.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Lily Maynard finds celebrity in her 70's as she writes her memoirs. She and her former husband Paul ran a church that was heavily involved in the early civil rights movement, and it was this involvement that ended their marriage. Lily enjoys her late-in-life fame, but now Parkinson's Disease is forcing her into a retirement home, and as she waits for a unit to become available she moves in with her son Alan and his French wife Gaby.
Lily's relationship with Alan has always been strained, as Alan has 'issues' with his strong-willed mother. These issues come to the forefront as they live together, and as Lily begins to deteriorate. Added to the mix is a writer doing an article about Lily, who brings up issues long-buried and best forgotten.
The novel is a strong character study of these characters: Lily, Alan and his wife and sons, and the lonely free-lance writer. Secrets, (none too shocking) are eventually revealed and issues resolved, but don't expect much in the way of plot or action. Just enjoy Miller's skill at creating these characters and bringing them to life.
The Distinguished Guest revolves around the visit by Lily Maynard, who became a literary superstar in her 70s for her memoirs of a failed marriage and her fiction about the challenges of integration in the 50s and 60s. She is suffering from Parkinson's Disease and needs help. Plans are being made for her to move into a nursing home, but there is a wait for a place. In the meantime, she is staying with her son, Alan, and his wife. The house is constantly filled with visiting writers and scholars who want to consult with and interview the famous Lily. Each character is strongly alienated from each other character based on an incomplete understanding of that character's perspective and experience. None of them make much of an attempt to bridge the communications' gaps. The book provides a useful perspective on the problems of achieving closeness among adults, and adds helpful insights into family roles.
The book has an unusual and rewarding style. It shifts seamlessly among literary snippets, old letters, internal thoughts, dialogue, and visual images to provide a broad perspective on the issues.
The Distinguished Guest also addresses the philosophical issue of what one's responsibility is towards fostering racial equality and integration. The book has a lot of useful observations about that issue that will be especially informative to those who missed the civil rights struggles of the 1960s and 1970s. Those perspectives launch themselves forward into providing insight for today's society.
I had the pleasure of listening to the book be read in an unabridged version by Frances Cassidy. She does a marvelous job of capturing the essence of each character, their directness or wiliness, with her easy shifts in accent, pacing, and pauses. I felt like I was listening to a great one woman dramatic performance on Broadway. I suspect that the book is harder to understand without the benefit of this outstanding reading, available from Books on Tape.
After you read this story, I suggest that you write a series of letters to those you care about to explain your feelings about them, and what your own motivations are in life. These disclosures can be a healing balm that soothes the chafing caused by misunderstanding your pursuit of your convictions as representing a lack of love for the person. By revealing what you meant, you can overcome negative presumptions that create a hurtful distance.
Enjoy being closer, even if that means feeling less distinguished in the process.
Lily Maynard, the 'distinguished guest' of the title, has become a bit of a literary celebrity late in life -- her memoirs were published to wide acclaim when she was seventy-two. She takes this gentle, respectful attention in both hands, relishing it and the opportunity it gives her to speak out and have some influence on her world. Her pronouncements alternately intrigue, delight and rankle those around her. As the disease progresses, and her grip on her faculties becomes more tenuous, she is forced to reassess both her life and the motives behind her writing -- how much of what she is telling is true, how much is creatively enhanced (and to what ends)? What is she really trying to accomplish?
Her presence in the household brings pressures to bear on other family members as well. They are there to stand by her and help her when she needs it -- but they are also seeing her as they have never seen her before. They are also seeing things in themselves and in each other that gives them both the need and the opportunity to have another look at their own lives.
This is not a book with a lot of 'action' -- but it is a very rewarding read in many ways. Miller's skill at developing these characters, at allowing the reader to look at them a layer at a time, is very satisfying. Relationships between them are very human and real -- they grow and shrink, adapt and change as they progress through life. With a little reflection, this book could easily be a tool allowing us to enhance our abilities to take a good look at our own lives and values -- and we can all stand to do that from time to time.
This book is entertaining on one level, but it is more than that -- there is much to be gained here, much to be savored. As tempting as it might be to read through this book in one setting, I think it is most likely the type of work that bears unhurried reflection -- and repeated reading.