What’s a cash-strapped widower to do when his elderly mother gets kicked out of her retirement home for bad behavior? Invite her to come live with him and his young daughter in their one-bathroom apartment, of course.
Oscar Perilloux isn’t exactly looking forward to his ornery, seventy-three-year-old mother coming to stay with him, but what else can he do? Neither she nor he has the kind of money needed for a proper retirement home, and Oscar’s wealthy businessman brother, Duncan, wants no part of her. For many years Duncan financially supported his mother, including paying for her expensive retirement home, without any thanks from her or assistance from Oscar. This both feeds Duncan’s pride and causes resentment toward his brother. Duncan’s way of taking care of people is buying what they need or want. Although Oscar is opening up his home to his mother, he hopes he can find a permanent place for her soon, as Stella, aka Mom, is not the most pleasant person to be around.
Stella’s arrival, alas, doesn’t go as smoothly as Oscar had hoped. As a single parent, he worries about the effect Stella and her questionable behaviors might have on his impressionable young daughter, Gabby. Oscar also has other concerns: he’s become attracted to Margot, a single mother of twins whom he sees each Sunday at Mass. There is only one problem: it turns out that Duncan is dating her. Meanwhile, Oscar’s childhood friend, Walter, a somewhat lost but good-hearted man still living in the past, unwittingly gets caught up in a social-media frenzy that threatens the peace of their idyllic New Hampshire hometown.
With so much going on in Oscar’s life, it’s a wonder he’s sane, let alone good. Perhaps his sanity and good nature are the result of putting his focus on God and others rather than himself. He had a tough upbringing, but he doesn’t let it control him or his relationship with his mother. Yet in living under the same roof, both mother and son are given the chance to heal old wounds and forgive. Understanding Stella’s own rough life has given Oscar compassion for her. He himself lost his wife to cancer and instead of drowning in sorrow, he puts his focus on his daughter and adheres to his wife’s wishes regarding the raising of Gabby. Oscar’s unselfishness appeals to Margot. Duncan, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. His focus is on himself, which makes him egotistical and miserable. Oscar’s and Duncan’s contrasting attitudes toward the world is a great lesson for all of us.
Making a Better World is a highly enjoyable read—a smart, funny, tender-hearted page turner. I must admit, I was a little sad as I approached the ending. I wanted to spend more time with these characters. They are vividly drawn and jump off the page. At one moment, I thought: how does the author know this same person as me? Thankfully, a sequel is already in the works. One thing to note is the occasional use of strong language in the book, for those who are sensitive to that. There is not a lot of it, but it is there. I recommend this book to all adults who love a good character-driven story involving a chaste mature romance and a second grader who will melt your heart. Catholicism is present, but the focus is more on Oscar and his relationships, so I think Christians of other denominations will enjoy it as well. This novel also deals in small part with a few of today’s hot-topic social issues and so should appeal to political junkies too.