I’ve just finished reading ‘The Absent Woman’, a thought-provoking novel about a woman in search of meaning in her life. The woman, Virginia Johnstone, is unhappy with her so-called normal life and her marriage. She’s tired of going through the rituals of appearing happy. As a condition of her divorce, she agrees to let her two young sons live with their father, not realizing the guilt and sadness that will follow.
Alone, and feeling lost, she takes a leave of absence from her court reporting job and moves temporarily from her life in Seattle to the small seaside town of Hilliard, Washington, where she hopes to find answers. She sublets rooms in an old now-defunct hotel, rooms that belong to a woman who has left, a woman Virginia nicknames ‘The Absent Woman’.
While exploring the hotel’s many rooms, Virginia finds a piano, which excites her because her one true passion is music. Perhaps she can find someone who can give her instruction and help bring her skills up to the level she aspires. She finds a piano teacher, Twilah Chan, and begins weekly lessons. She meets the woman’s son, Greg, too, and forms a romantic relationship with him. But her sadness and guilt linger. Even when she visits her sons on weekends, and they visit her, she finds it hard to forgive herself for being ‘an absent woman, an absent mother’.
The novel is short and simple, beautifully written, and haunting in its raw truth. One of my favorite passages is this:
“’How’s the old hotel?’ he asked.
“’Good.’ I was surprised that the building, creaking at night in the wind and rain, didn’t frighten me. In the old hotel there was room to stretch. ‘There, I’m free.’
“Greg didn’t ask why I liked being free. He’d never asked why I was alone. He’d never quoted the homily that always filled me with guilt: ‘Bloom where you’re planted.’ We have legs, I was primed to retort. Not roots.”