"I looked out the window and was filled with contentment. I was on a train. There was no landscape, ugly or beautiful, to demand my attention . . . None of the passengers within my view were badly dressed. I had the right book with me . . . I was happily married but alone, nothing in the immediate past to regret, nothing in the immediate future to fear. In between -- the best place to be."
At fifty, Grace Hanford has lived long enough to be a daughter, a stepdaughter, a girlfriend, a sister, a sister-in-law, a wife, a stepmother, and an orphan. She has fallen in and out of love -- with troublesome men, with her glamorous mother, with her wild best friend, and with New York City -- more times than she can count. Still, Grace is more comic than melancholic, and a gifted confessor. She lives life as if every day is a movie in which her role is yet to be determined -- and her audience loves her for it.
In The Best Place to Be, we follow Grace from her fatherless childhood through her years at an all-girls college to adulthood in the city and her many dating escapades (and escapes) as an urban sophisticate. Wherever she may be, Grace tries to find her place in the world with humor and the blunt surprise of truth. And always, in the background, there is Grace's mother, brother, and the man she could or might or will call husband, out of reach -- until she reaches.
In the tradition of Melissa Bank's The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing, The Best Place to Be is at once funny, moving, and deeply provocative, a love letter to the self-determined woman that shimmers with hilarious insight and graceful wit.
Each of the eight related stories in Dormen's accomplished collection\t\t offers a snapshot from the scattershot life of Grace Hanford. "Fifty and\t\t holding," a child of divorce from Cleveland, Ohio, with decades of therapy and\t\t blind dates behind her, Grace has spent years "dissecting the romantic lives of\t\t single women in their twenties and thirties" for Marvelous Woman magazine in New York City. Married to\t\t money-manager Richard, Grace has all the trappings of middle-age (the kitchen\t\t renovation, the "looming face-lift") except children of her own (Richard has\t\t two from a previous marriage). The first and best story, "The Old Economy\t\t Husband," lays out Grace's life in Greenwich Village, where she's lived long\t\t enough to watch the UPS man go gray. While ghostwriting an etiquette book, she\t\t recognizes she has relinquished her earlier theories about love and chosen a\t\t man "who made me feel like my fiercest, most clear-hearted twelve-year-old\t\t self." Subsequent stories limn with less panache the transitional periods in\t\t Grace's life: attending Elmira College for Women circa 1964 ("The Secret of\t\t Drawing"), quarreling with her younger brother over their dead mother's effects\t\t ("Gladiators"), arranging a reunion with her estranged father ("Curvy").\t\t Dormen's narrator takes plenty of knocks, making the happiness she finds all\t\t the sweeter.