Life-affirming road trip

By Nicky Pellegrino

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By Michael Zadoorian
HarperCollins, $27.99

Some books have such a filmic quality that you can almost hear the soundtrack and see the scenes unfold across the screen as you read them. With The Leisure Seeker, I even started wondering who would play the part of feisty old-timer Ella Robina, a gun-toting grandma, who, when she realises she's dying of cancer, defies her family and doctors and takes her husband John on a final trip across the country in their old camper van.

John's behind the wheel despite having Alzheimer's, while Ella's fuelled by little blue pills and cocktails as they head for Disneyland.

"I know nothing lasts," Ella says, "but even when you know that things are just about over, sometimes you can run back and take a little bit more and no one will notice." Ella chooses Route 66 for their final journey. It's a heavy-handed image, the two old people driving a highway that's as decrepit as they are. But as they pass through rundown tourist must-sees, gas stations and burger bars it's impossible not to fall a little bit in love with the couple.

At night the pair revisit their lives by watching old slides of long-ago holidays they took with friends who are now dead and children now old themselves.

It's a reminder that the end of life can be a sad place. Zadoorian is brutally authentic about the realities of the ageing body. But this is more a life-affirming than depressing read. Sassy Ella is a character who'll stay with you and, even if you see the ending coming from miles away, it's still going to move you. This is a poignant, bittersweet sort of tale and it's funny, too.

Apparently Swedish arthouse director Jens Jonsson is already on-board to make the movie version. He'd better cast Shirley Maclaine as Ella Robina. The part seems pretty much written for her.

- Herald on Sunday

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