While reading this delightful coming-of-age/dealing-with-(advanced)-aging book set in Granite Creek, Minnesota, I laughed, cried, and baked. Mostly I laughed.
Haze Evans is 81 when the story begins in the summer of 2016, and still writing regular columns for the Granite Creek Gazette. She suffers a massive stroke however, and is hospitalized in a coma. Haze’s columns – about life, the universe, and everything – have been very popular over the 52 years she wrote them, and reader reaction has always been considerable. Susan McGrath, the newspaper’s publisher, decides to re-run some of Haze’s old columns and responses while Haze is (hopefully) recovering.
The title, “Chronicles of a Radical Hag,” refers to a slur made by one of Haze’s regular detractors, Harlan Dodd, who is a neighbor of Susan’s. Harlan has been disgusted over the years with Haze’s liberal outlook, especially with respect to her championing of women’s rights. He wants her to stick to writing about “more appropriate issues” for women, like how to bake. Haze complies in a clever and amusing way. Harlan will have cause to reevaluate his life when the columns are re-run.
Thus, with columns interspersed in the narrative, we get to know Haze and the people in her orbit, including those who are selecting the columns for publication. This group is made up of Susan; her 14-year-old son Sam who is helping out at the paper during the summer; and Caroline, Susan’s assistant. All three of them are also struggling with complications of relationships (or in Sam’s case, a wanna-be relationship). Unexpectedly, Haze’s wisdom distilled through her columns helps all of them.
It is Sam’s story that comes to dominate. Sam goes through a metamorphosis spurred by “getting to know” Haze, and the effect on him also acts as a catalyst for changes in others. An Epilogue one year later ties up the threads of the story.
Evaluation: I thought this story was adorable and so uplifting – a true pleasure to read!
Published by the University of Minnesota Press, 2019