In “The Weekend,” Australian author Charlotte Wood’s dark, smart comedy of manners, three women spend a weekend together at a beach house in Bittoes, a fictional spot on the rocky, famously beautiful coastline between Sydney and Newcastle. But as one of them repeatedly reminds the others, this is not a vacation — despite the fact that it’s Christmastime, and they’ve been spending the holiday together here for years. This year, its owner, Sylvie, has recently died, and they’ve been sent by her partner Gail to “take anything they want” and “have a holiday.”
“How you could think clearing out your dead friend’s house a holiday,” thinks Wendy, once a prominent academic, on her way down in her half-dead car with her half-dead dog, whom she knows was not invited. Blind, deaf, disoriented and pacing in circles, poor Finn will dog the events of the weekend with bleak metaphoric resonance.
In any case, what these women want is not there anymore — their generous, warmhearted friend Sylvie, who was the glue in this 40-year-old friendship, formed when the women were in their prime, gathering with their partners at Jude’s trendy restaurant to celebrate Adele’s successes on stage or Wendy’s new book. What they will sadly find is that “Adele and Wendy and Jude did not fit together properly anymore, without Sylvie.”
Like Finn, none of them is what they once were. Jude is bitter, cold and uptight, having spent her entire adult life as the mistress of a married man. Wendy is lonely — too lonely to let Finn go — and desperate to recapture her intellectual fire. Once a celebrity actress, Adele hasn’t had a part in ages. As Wendy further muses on her drive to Bittoes, “Everybody hated old people now; it was acceptable, encouraged even, because of your paid-off mortgage and your free education and your ruination of the planet.”
The psychological landscape of women over 70, even over 50 or 60, has not been a popular subject for contemporary fiction. Recently, Elizabeth Strout offered a strong exception with “Olive, Again,” which followed her cantankerous heroine into her 90s. For a reader in or facing the demographic of Wood’s three friends, “The Weekend” is both fascinating and chilling. Not just the question of superannuated friendships, but also past-prime careers, aging bodies, senior finances and calcifying personality traits are all fairly coldly examined here. “After she gave you something, she would badger you for months about its welfare. How’s the couch?”
At the very beginning of the book, Jude considers what her married lover believes is the real reason most men don’t read fiction. “They would be led to understanding themselves, and it scared the [expletive] out of them.” Fortunately for Charlotte Wood, women readers are braver.
Marion Winik is the author of “The Big Book of the Dead” and the host of the Weekly Reader podcast. Visit her at marionwinik.com.
By: Charlotte Wood.
Publisher: Riverhead, 272 pages, $27.