Today we welcome Joan Cohen to Booklover Book Review to discuss her new novel Land of Last Chances.
Land of Last Chances Synopsis:
Jeanne Bridgeton, an unmarried executive in her late forties, discovers life doesn’t begin and end on a spreadsheet when her expected menopause instead becomes an unexpected pregnancy. Though accomplished at managing risk professionally, Jeanne realizes her skills don’t extend to her personal life, where she has allowed the professional and the personal to become intertwined. She’s not even sure which of two men in her life is the father. Worse yet, a previously undisclosed family secret reveals that she may carry a rare hereditary gene for early-onset Alzheimer’s―and it’s too late to get genetic tests. This leaves Jeanne to cope with her intense fear of risk without the aid of the mountain of data she’s accustomed to relying upon. Wrestling with the question of whether her own needs, or those of her child, should prevail takes Jeanne on an intensely emotional journey―one that ultimately leads to growth and enlightenment.
(She Writes Press, 13 August 2019)
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Q&A with author Joan Cohen
How did you get the idea for your novel, Land of Last Chances?
I like writing about moral dilemmas, not because I know the answers, but because these are the questions I turn over in my own mind. I know I won’t figure them out in my book, but if writing the novel doesn’t hold my interest, it certainly won’t hold a reader’s interest. Abortion is a true moral dilemma, i.e., you can make a strong case for either side, and it’s partly a question of philosophy and partly a question of science how a person decides. My protagonist, Jeanne Bridgeton, had no reason to confront this dilemma until a midlife, unexpected pregnancy and the discovery she and her baby might be at risk for a rare, inherited form of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease intruded on her life. She didn’t even know which of two men was the father.
Most of us have at least a partially evolved philosophy of life, whether we’re aware of it or not, by the time we’re middle-aged, and we know life throws curve balls. What is it about Jeanne that causes these events to throw her into such turmoil?
Jeanne is highly risk-averse. She was raised that way, and as a corporate executive, she has made that trait work for her. She’s diligent about gathering all relevant data before making marketing decisions for her company and aspires to build on her success and become a CEO. As the novel opens, she learns from her doctor that if she terminates her pregnancy, conceiving again is unlikely. Menopause is on her doorstep. For an unmarried woman who’s never wanted children, that shouldn’t be a problem, but there’s something about having that door closed that makes Jeanne rethink her life choices. The news about her family history of Alzheimer’s is devastating, in part, because no test can reveal Jeanne’s risk in time for her twenty-fourth week, the deadline for abortion in her state.
Why choose a woman in business as your protagonist in Land of Last Chances?
I spent my career in a corporate environment, and as most working women know, the work-life balance is a myth. Even if one is fortunate enough to have a sharing spouse and plenty of money, work or family or both get short-changed, depending on the circumstances. Professional problems and family problems have a way of influencing if not intruding on each other. Where are the novels about working women? There are few that aren’t focused on romance. Non-fiction abounds, most of it by women making money telling other women how to change themselves to be successful.
Why did you choose a rare inherited form of Alzheimer’s to write about?
Like most people, I knew little about Alzheimer’s until I saw my mother and grandmother overcome by it. I believed the common misconceptions, that it was an old person’s malady and that senility (an obsolete word) was inevitable. I learned over time that while age is the primary risk factor for Alzheimer’s, as it is for cancer and other diseases, Alzheimer’s is not inevitable. It’s a disease, not a universal characteristic of growing old. The term “dementia” refers to a set of symptoms which 70-80% of the time are caused by Alzheimer’s disease. Because of my experience, I chose to join an advisory board at the Boston University School of Medicine’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center, where I became better educated about the disease. I contributed further by volunteering for a study. When I tried to do fundraising for research, I discovered most people were as uninformed as I had been. It was an easy choice for me to give my protagonist the risk of the early-onset form of Alzheimer’s.
Why did you make Bricklin, a golden retriever, an important character in your novel?
I love dogs. I’ve had seven. Only one is left, because they all died of cancer. I wanted a dog desperately as a child, but I grew up in an apartment, and my parents wanted no part of pet ownership. My mother told me when I grew up, I could do what I wanted. I did. I had two dogs at a time, and they were as different from one another as people are. I learned to value non-verbal communication, and sweetness as much as intellect. Jeanne was a person who needed a dog, so I gave her one.
Land of Last Chances is available from:
About the Author, Joan Cohen
Originally from Mount Vernon, New York, Joan Cohen received her BA from Cornell University and her MBA from New York University. She pursued a career in sales and marketing at computer hardware and software companies until she retired to return to school for an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She has been a Massachusetts resident for many years, first living in Newton, where she raised her family, and later in Wayland. She now resides in Stockbridge, in the Berkshires, with her husband and golden retriever.