About the book Forever 51
• Paperback: 332 pages
• Publisher: Fawkes Press, LLC (November 5, 2020)
Immortality’s a bitch.
Veronica is eternally fifty-one years old with a proclivity for problematic drinking. Like most hormonally challenged women negotiating the change of life, she is a hot mess. To retain her sanity, she attends weekly AA meetings and adheres to a strict diet of organic, locally-sourced, (mostly) cruelty-free human blood from the hospice facility where she works. Her life stopped being fun about a hundred years ago, right about the time her teenage daughter stole her soul and took off for California with a hot, older guy. These days, Veronica’s existence is just that – an existence, as flat and empty as her own non-reflection in the bathroom mirror.
When her estranged daughter contacts her via Facebook, Veronica learns that she has one chance to escape her eternal personal summer: she must find and apologize to every one of the people she’s turned into vampires in the last century. That is, if they’re still out there. With raging hormones and a ticking clock, Veronica embarks on a last-ditch road trip to regain her mortality, reclaim her humanity, and ultimately, die on her own terms.
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About the author, Pamela Skjolsvik
A curious thing happens when you have the audacity to call yourself the death writer; people want to talk to you about death. A lot. This is all well and good for those daring types of writers like Mary Roach or Jessica Mitford, but for me it was initially problematic. Prior to declaring my morbid writing intention of exploring death professions during my first semester of Goucher College’s MFA program in 2008, I had little experience with death or grief, not to mention very little social engagement with the living. It wasn’t until after I finished the two years of research for this book that I was officially diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder and went through four months of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy through a research study at Southern Methodist University.
My writing life began in 2005 when I received a fellowship to the San Juan Writers’ Workshop. The instructor, Lee Gutkind, told me not to publish for the sake of publishing, but to publish well. He also informed me that I was a horrible public speaker. Admittedly that stung, but he did like an essay I’d written. It was published in Creative Nonfiction Issue 33 and in Silence Kills: Speaking Out and Saving Lives. In August 2010, I received my MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Goucher College and read five pages from my manuscript in front of a packed room without passing out.
As part of my therapy, I was encouraged to join a writer’s group where I would have to read regularly in front of a group, as this was one of my main fears. I am happy to say that I am now an active member of the DFW Writers Workshop in Euless, TX. We meet every Wednesday and I make it a point to read out loud every week.
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When I first heard about this book, and that the lead character was a vampire who’d been turned in middle age and was eternally menopausal, I laughed out loud, because as someone who just turned fifty in August, I could totally relate. Then I leapt into reading it.
Wow! What a refreshing take on the vampire trope! Veronica Bouchard is middle-aged, crotchety, confident about everything except her body, tand addicted to the red stuff -blood. So much so, that she attends AA meetings in order to help keep herself from killing people for food, and works as a night nurse in a hospice where the deaths she must cause are largely merciful.
When her biological daughter, forever fifteen, and estranged from her since the 1930s, contacts Veronica (via Facebook – how else?) and informs her that she can become mortal again, hijinks ensue, involving a young junkie, and a lot of practice of the ninth step of the Twelve Step program: Make direct amends to [people they have wronged] wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Through Veronica’s Great Apology Road Trip, we meet the men and women who most impacted her (un)life, and learn her history with each of them. We also see some popular vampire myths completely debunked (garlic, crosses, sunlight, invitations to enter) which causes Veronica to be annoyed, frustrated, amused, and even a little smug when she realizes how much information isn’t shared among her kind.
What I loved about this novel was that the central figure could, except for the specifics of her “addiction,” be any woman entering or experience menopause. The hot flashes, the mood shifts, the dissatisfaction with what she sees (or doesn’t see) in the mirror are all universal, and, to be honest, we all have addictions of some kind or another, though not all require meetings and intervention.
While Veronica is the most vividly drawn figure, her daughter Ingrid, her (current) husband Frank, and her adopted tag-a-long happy meal with legs, Jenny the junkie, are all equally dimensional, and the characters we encounter are all well crafted, too. I’m not sure if my favorite was Desmond, Ingrid’s maker (and also a waiter and a morgue attendant) or Knud, one of Veronica’s first post-death partners, who reminded me of a deeper, more in-touch version of Olaf the Viking from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
At turns funny, sad, frustrating, and poignant, Forever 51 is a fast-paced adventure of personal transformation and discovery, and one that you can really (forgive the obvious pun) sink your teeth into.
Goes well with a bacon cheeseburger, garlic fries, and a Bloody Mary, naturally.
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Pamela Skjolsvik is hosting a challenge on her Twitter. Tag her (@pamelaskjolsvik) with an image of yourself doing one of the things in the image below, and she’ll send you a bonus chapter: