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BOOK: “The Last Best Thing.”
PUBLISHED IN: 2015
THE AUTHOR: Kate Sebeny
THE EDITOR: Kate Sebeny
THE PUBLISHER: Kellen Publishing
SUMMARY: Sam and Sarah are the elderly owners of a farm in central Iowa that turns into a private retirement community when it also becomes home to a disabled friend, a destitute neighbor and a recent retiree. Married nearly 50 years, Sam is a former lawyer suffering from congestive heart failure. But he knows there’s nothing wrong with his wife’s heart. Sarah is an ex-English teacher and a resourceful farm wife who flinches at nothing in the service of those she loves. She’s also a “murderer.”
Sarah’s “victim” is a lifelong friend more full of mischief than life. He comes to spend his remaining days with Sam and Sarah when it’s clear those days are numbered by a painful degenerative bone disease. Determined to commit suicide while still physically capable of it, he bargains with Sarah to postpone his plan by extracting from her a promise to “help” him when the time comes. He argues that her assistance would constitute an act of mercy similar to that she performed for her cancer-riddled old dog; it would be “the last best thing” she could do for her friend.
Betty is another member of this “home away from the old folks’ home” who ultimately becomes involved in the logistical and moral complications of Joe’s death. Willfully blind, eternally optimistic, and afflicted with a host of endearing quirks, this breast-cancer survivor and former nurse moves in with her neighbors Sam and Sarah when she loses her own farm paying for her husband’s Alzheimer’s-related nursing home expenses. Along with Betty comes her daughter, Libby, who leaves a job and husband she dislikes to help care for a father she despises.
As the realization of a longtime, commonsense-defying goal, Henry, a successful artist, moves from Amsterdam to join his old college friends – and Betty, for whom he cherishes a special fondness.
Together, this group of old friends and new lovers confronts the hardships and disappointments of old age and infirmity with courage, humanity and humor. Until a threat to their close-knit community arrives in the form of a home healthcare nurse sent to check up on Joe. Miserable in her personal and professional life, Renee is at first charmed out of her bitterness by inclusion in the old folks’ loving fun. So much so that, even when she accidentally discovers Joe’s fate, Renee’s initial reaction is one of envy for the grace she imagines Joe’s life to have been blessed with.
But later, the increasingly heavy burden of “her senile uncle, her loser son, menopause, car problems, and her alternately charming and vile ex-husband” gets on Renee’s last nerve. In desperation, she appeals to the aging community of friends and bribes them to take her demented uncle into their household. When that doesn’t work, Renee threatens to reveal her knowledge of Joe’s death. Through blackmail, she demands that the old folks “take care of” her uncle – one way or another.
As soon as Sarah accepts sole responsibility as Joe’s “killer,” everyone – Libby, Sam, Betty and Henry (who wasn’t even physically in the state of Iowa at the time of Joe’s death) – defuse Sarah’s admission with their own contradictory “confessions.” In the process of deciding how far to go for a friend, the characters of this “geriatric Big Chill” discover their own truest selves.
THE BACK STORY: I moved next door to my best friends, so there was no longer any separation of households; it was all one big happy family. One evening over gin-tonics on one front porch or another, we kicked around the scenario of a “deaf haven,” a play of words on the title of a book I’d written, Deaf Heaven. This deaf haven would be populated by us as geezers decades hence, future debilities leaving us hard of hearing or otherwise, still living cooperatively, still drinking gin-tonics on the porch.
WHY THIS TITLE? I had recently had to put my cancer-riddled old dog down, knowing it was the last best thing I could do for my old friend. This question also speaks to the back story in that I reflected long and hard on what a shame it is humans aren’t legally accorded the same mercy at the end of our lives. It wasn’t long after the writing of this story that my significant other, who was dying of congestive heart failure, chose to be proactive and meet death on his own terms.
WHY YOU WOULD WANT TO READ IT: Naturally, I write books I’d want to read myself. (The irony here is that authors are the only people who can’t read their books for the first time.) I subscribe to Toni Morrison’s philosophy: “If there’s a book that you want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
The elements this book contains are those that appeal most to me as a reader. Dark as the subject matter might be at times, it’s very funny in places. The story is just like life, only more meaningful. The characters—even the “villain”—are engaging and easy to relate to. And I’m always a sucker for evocative description.
Grady Harp, for Amazon: “This is one surprisingly fine debut!… [Kate’s] way with dialogue is unpretentious, at times hilarious while at other times desperately sensitive that the mouths and minds of her characters speak in a fashion that makes them and their status wholly credible…. Treat yourself to one of the more refreshing new authors to be published this year. Think AM Holmes, Alice Hoffman, Sue Monk Kidd, Joyce Carol Oates, Annie Proulx. And now remember to read Kate Sebeny.”
Trudi LoPreto, for Readers’ Favorite: “The Last Best Thing is not like any other book I have ever read. It touched things in my own life that are a natural part of growing old with humor, wisdom and love. Kate Sebeny has written a story that will make you cry, make you laugh, and make you say what if. I highly recommend this book to all… you will not want to put it down until the very last page.”
Sophia Carleton, UK reviewer: “Quirky. Heartwarming. Uplifting. Not normally words you’d associate with a story about euthanasia, the ravages of age and terminal illness. Yet that’s exactly what I was left with after reading The Last Best Thing…. There’s real potential here for this novella to become a full blown novel. However, it is damn near perfect as it is: a bite-size treat of thought provoking escapism to the American Midwest.”
AUTHOR PROFILE: Born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, I earned my bachelor’s degree at the University of Iowa and my master’s at Iowa State University. I’ve taught undergraduate writing at two universities, and been editor of a local newspaper and at a national magazine. I’m the recipient of several grants and awards for my writing. I’ve also renovated every place I’ve lived, including the historical Madison County jailhouse in Winterset, Iowa. Along with three dogs and three cats, I call my current rehab project on the Des Moines River home.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: As I mentioned earlier, The Last Best Thing is an issue-driven story about end-of-life decisions. The news is full of right-to-die items, but I wanted to give the debate a personal face. At some point(s), everyone’s life is bound to be touched to some extent by this dilemma. The book’s characters show us one way to confront such inevitable circumstances with humanity, grace and humor. And that is together, helping one another through times of trouble.
WHERE TO BUY IT: Kellan Publishing, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo
PRICE: $3 – $7 for digital edition, $10 – $16 for print edition
LinkedIn: Kate Sebeny
Publisher’s website: http://kellanpublishing.com/index.php/authors/kate-sebeny/