Old Friends: The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper (review)

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper
Phaedra Patrick
MIRA Books

Over the past few years, old folks have squeezed their way into readers’ TBRs and onto bookstore “Staff Recommends” shelves. I’ve met so many Old Friends. Like Ove and Britt Marie; Miss Queenie and Harold Frye; Etta and Otto. And I’ve loved them all, I really have. These old Curious-Charms-of-Arthur-Pepperfolks are often irascible, sometimes lovable, and always wounded. After carrying life’s disappointments and tragedies for six or more decades, they come–finally–to love, and they can greet their last days with grace.

Phaedra Patrick’s The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper is a book that belongs in those TBR piles, but Patrick uses a lighter touch than other authors. Arthur Pepper mourns his wife Miriam. In some feeble attempt to hold on to their life together, Arthur dresses the same each day in his “husband uniform”: sweater vest and gray slacks. He rises at 7:30, breakfasts at 8, and continues his day in the same regimented way. His daughter Lucy frets over him; his neighbor Bernadette feeds him. But when the first anniversary of Miriam’s death arrives, Arthur decides it is time to clean out her closet and pack up her clothes.

It’s then that he discovers a heart shaped box in an old pair of boots, and inside a gold charm bracelet he had never seen before. (A little odd, considering Miriam and Arthur had been married over forty years.) Puzzled by what each charm might represent–an elephant, flower, book, artist’s palette, tiger, ring, and thimble–Arthur decides to solve their mystery, if only to keep the memory of Miriam with him a little longer. He begins by calling a gentleman in India, and his adventures eventually take him to London and France.

Along the way Arthur comes to appreciate a Miriam he never knew, and this both comforts and saddens him. How can he reconcile their quiet domestic life against the backdrop of her past with its parties and travel and lovers? And as in most of the Old Friends books, Arthur comes to know himself better. He has, after all, traveled a hero’s journey. The plot of Curious Charms is a little more pat than some of the other novels, and Arthur a little less complex than other Old Friends, but it is still an endearing read.

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