Agatha's Ashes

The New Woman

Jon Hassler

Viking Press, $23.95, 214 pp.

W. H. Auden once remarked that readers want their favorite novelists to be faithful to them, while remaining free themselves to be as unfaithful as they please. Jon Hassler’s latest book, The New Woman, may at first glance seem unfaithful to readers devoted to his four previous novels of life in bucolic Staggerford, the fictional Minnesota town he began chronicling almost thirty years ago. In The New Woman Hassler trains his comic and ironic Midwestern vision-more generous and humane than Sinclair Lewis’s, less macabre than Sherwood Anderson’s-on the problems of the senior citizen. The novel follows Hassler’s familiar heroine, retired Staggerford teacher Agatha McGee, through a series of adventures in and around Sunset Senior Apartments, where at age eighty-seven Agatha has moved, fearing herself too old to live alone. Seeing her at Sunset, readers may ask: whatever happened to the feisty and opinionated Agatha we knew from the prior books? And what kind of compelling story will the novelist find in the everyday events of a retirement community?

Like many a Hassler novel, The New Woman begins with a mystery. Agatha cannot find a valuable gold brooch, a gift from her parents and memento of her 1927 high school graduation. She suspects another Sunset tenant of stealing it, and soon focuses on John Beezer, a retired farmer with a surly disposition and bad table manners. With other residents fearing for their...

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About the Author

Ed Block is professor of English at Marquette University, and editor of Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature.