It's easy to ascertain right away that "Love in the Late Edition" was written by a journalist. Never mind that the novel was literally written by an ex-newsman — former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette deputy editorial page editor and columnist Reg Henry, to be exact — who made its protagonist a retired Pittsburgh reporter as well.
Anyone familiar with the rhythms of a newspaper article will identify the matter-of-fact way Henry lays out the story of Alistair Brown, a new resident of a luxurious California retirement home whose wife dies on their first night at the Estate, forcing him to find new meaning while working through his grief.
The novel is laid out as a journal Alistair put together as a means of capturing his journey from his lowest point back to a life full of laughter and love. While structurally sound, most of "Love in the Late Edition" reads like a reporter's measured accounting of the events as they unfolded — which, while probably purposeful, doesn't always translate well to prose.
Alistair is clearly a semi-biographical creation by Henry. Both are older gentlemen born in Australia who moved to the United States and pursued a media career in both California and Pittsburgh. Beyond that, the community of wacky retirees that Henry concocted displays an impressive prowess for world-building.
Despite his initial desire to be left alone to wallow in despair, Alistair is surrounded by colorful characters who slowly raise his spirits. He initially misjudges many of them — mostly the women — as being old-folks stereotypes, but he is proven wrong almost every time and eventually is forced to admit, "There are no senior citizens, just citizens who may be old."
It's worth mentioning that "Love in the Late Edition" is coming out during a global pandemic during which many young, healthy people have seemed unconcerned by how their behavior can affect this particularly vulnerable population. As a result, Henry's portrayal of a group of capable, compassionate, recognizably human elderly people is especially refreshing and timely.
The fun is slightly hamstrung, though, by Henry's choice to have all the proceedings told from Alistair's point of view. There's nothing wrong with a gruff, no-nonsense lead character, and Alistair is well-developed in that regard. But a side effect of having him as the narrator is that most of the characters' voices sound like his, rather than the distinctive menagerie Henry must have envisioned and came so close to realizing.
There's a good chance that pervasive voice is also Henry's, as the "write what you know" ethos he clearly employed here trickles down into the activity Alistair throws himself into as he tries to distract himself from his inner pain: turning the Estate's oft-forgotten newsletter into a respectable publication.
The bulk of the plot involves Alistair and his ragtag crew of geriatric journalists ruffling feathers with their reporting, particularly when the Estate changes ownership to someone who clearly doesn't have the residents' best interests at heart. It's not exactly "Spotlight" in terms of its celebration of the free press' power, but it's clearly Henry's ode to his previous profession.
There's also a romantic element at play as Alistair navigates his attraction to Linda, the Estate's librarian, and how he could possibly pursue her even with his late wife constantly on his mind. Their interactions are quite sweet and, though this subplot does fall into some well-worn rom-com clichés, provide some much-needed warmth to help melt Alistair's sometimes chilly exterior.
At one point, Linda describes Alistair so accurately it hurts: "I think, Alistair, you have become a newspaper yourself. Full of information, full of turns of phrase, full of jokes and tragedy, full of life."
That's the kind of clever sentimentality "Love in the Late Edition" seems to be striving for and, for the most part, succeeds in provoking. It may read at times like a newspaper, but more like one from a pre-internet era that would generally soothe the senses, not overwhelm them.
Joshua Axelrod is a features writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Love in the Late Edition
By: Reg Henry.
Publisher: Seton Publishing, 293 pages, $15.