The Old Place by Bobby Finger takes place in small town Texas where nearly everyone who lives there, grew up there. Mary Alice Roth is a 63-year-old outspoken high school math teacher who was recently forced to retire. She lost her son, Michael about 12 years ago when he was just 18, and lost her husband, Samuel 24 years ago when he drowned near her family’s lake house, which they call “the old place.” Mary Alice’s childhood “…happiest memories were spent at the old place. Not quite a ranch, which would technically have required livestock, and not quite a second home, which would have required more creature comforts, the old place was just somewhere to be when you didn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Mary Alice is angry about her forced retirement and has no idea what to do with herself:
“Starting a new day knowing you had nothing to build was utterly ridiculous, maybe even sinful.”
She takes her resentment out on her young replacement, a New Yorker named Josie, who has moved into town with her husband Travis. Travis had grown up with Mary Alice’s son, and he has brought his family back to his home town to live. As the story unfolds, Mary Alice is handing out food assignments to the women of the town for the upcoming community picnic, and she makes no secret of handing out the most distasteful assignments (40 lbs. of potato salad) to the women she likes the least, which includes Josie. But the story deepens as we learn more about Mary Alice’s history with her best friend, Ellie, who lives next door and also had a son that died, just weeks before Mary Alice lost Michael. Their boys had been best friends, and the whole town had been devastated by the loss. When Mary Alice’s sister Katherine--with whom she holds old grudges--unexpectedly arrives from Atlanta, all of Mary Alice’s secrets are suddenly in danger of being revealed.
The Old Place, looks beyond small-town gossip and gatherings to reveal the painful stories we tell ourselves and others in order to cope with the truths we try so desperately to conceal. Though Mary Alice is regarded as "...an old bitch," she is not only pitied, but beloved, and we hope she can somehow find her way.
Hardcover 336 pages, Audiobook 8 hours, 46 minutes.
The Old Place is releasing today! Thanks #NetGalley for an advanced copy of this poignant book in return for an unbiased review.