June 7, 2023

Review: Silver Alert

Silver Alert
Available now from Algonquin Books
Review copy

I never go on a road trip without books. Silver Alert seemed like a perfect choice, the story of an octogenarian and his ailing wife's manicurist going on a wild joyride. Little did I know that their joyride wouldn't start until over halfway into the novel. This is not a road book at all.

Silver Alert is written in a stream-of-consciousness style, switching between the points of view of Herb and Renee/Dee Dee. Herb is an old womanizer with multiple terrible kids. His younger wife has severe dementia, and he's struggling to care for her while denying that he needs care himself. Enter Dee Dee, a seemingly naive young manicurist who clearly isn't licensed, but can actually help calm Susan down and make her happy. Dee Dee is dealing with her own struggles, living in a trailer park with a friend who is getting involved with the wrong guy, while Dee Dee herself gets involved with a rich young poet.

While Silver Alert is written in a breezy style that makes it an easy read, it does deal with heavy subject matter. There's the loss of control over one's own life before death, of course. But there's also Dee Dee's past, which deals with sex trafficking and child abuse. The problem is that Dee Dee's character never felt believable to me. She supposedly has a seventh grade education, but is written more like she only has a third or fourth grade education. It made me wonder if Lee Smith initially wrote the abuse starting earlier, then decided that was too dark. More than that, Dee Dee is immensely trusting, including the men in the story. 

Conversely, I find Herb's voice very believable. I've seen dementia up close, and feel like Lee Smith has as well. There's little touches, like Herb having very little thought-to-mouth filter that make his developing mental state clear, even while he's in denial. Him not wanting to deal with intense medical treatment at his age (for a diagnosis he tries to keep secret from his family) also makes sense. Dee Dee being entirely unwary of this man when we've heard his leering thoughts and even his family is aware that he'd make a move on her despite the age difference didn't ring half as true.

I do think that people can maintain their innocence and naivety even through terrible situations. I get the appeal of throwing an old and grouchy character together with a young and optimistic one. But Silver Alert didn't work for me. It wanted to bring up tough subjects but not have them actually affect the characters. Thankfully, it was a quick read.

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