The Ombudsman by Joel B. Geffen is a very linear novel that is comforting to read. Expectations are set up, bad guys are identified, evils are enumerated, characters are assigned their roles, and the reader of a novel like this can feel comfortable that everything will work out in the end. That is what happens here. This is not a spoiler. The way we get to the happy ending is the entertainment. Some of the points that the characters end up at will surprise the reader.
Al is living alone. His wife, Shelly, had died after a long downward decline of health due to Alzheimer’s. Al had been her caregiver and now he has an empty life. He fills it with visiting his son, Stewey who works 24-7 as he struggles to make his diner profitable. He visits with his friend, Regis, who is a manager at a local farmer’s market. He visits a gym and decides to study yoga. That might be because of yoga instructor Heather, a widow. He has also decided to take volunteer training to be an ombudsman, a volunteer advisor to government authorities about conditions discovered during visits to senior care facilities. Al’s visits, the anecdotes about selected individuals, and the examination of the quality of care in nursing homes and assisted living centers are a rich source of material for Geffen.
Heather has a few problems of her own. She lost her husband after a twenty-four-year marriage. She has no problem discussing that part of her life, but she is hesitant to bring up the fact that her mother has Alzheimer’s, the same disease that took Shelly away from Al. And Heather is at least partially responsible for her mom’s care. Heather has had a lifelong resentment of her mother that borders on hatred. Heather will come to a remarkable conclusion about her feelings for her mother.
Stewey has a few problems with his diner. He is lucky to have Elina that takes care of all things financial. She is good looking as well. There is a problem with some bills that are not paid on time, but maybe just arithmetic errors. Or maybe not.
Marco works as a mechanic. He has a girlfriend but he doesn’t think of her as much as he thinks of his mother, who is living alone at age 79. It doesn’t help when she tells Marco that she occasionally gets dizzy. A call comes at work. Marco’s mom has fallen and broken bones. She is in a hospital, she will recover, but she will recover long-term assisted care. Marco does not have the money for this. And he loses his job due to so much time off for taking care of his mother. And he loses his apartment because the building was sold to a developer.
Mr. Simmons’s wife of forty-five years passed away. He does not live alone, but it might be better if he did. Simmons’s fifty-two-year-old unemployed son, Will, is supposed to take care of him in return for a place to live and possibly a share of the elder Simmons’s retirement benefits. Will yells at his father so often Adult Protective Services is beginning to intervene, at least telephonically, after complaints from neighbors. Will leaves his father alone for extended periods of time, feeds him only Hungry Man dinners, refuses to help him bathe for many days on end, and generally insults him when Will decides to be home. The only bright spots for the elder Simmons are the visits from Sunny, his daughter, and her husband, Denni. The fact that Sunny and Denni are in a gay relationship and soon to adopt a child should have no impact on the eventual disposition of Mr. Simmons’s estate, to be divided between Will and Sunny. Watch out for the appearance of the slimy lawyer who will assist Will in an attempted asset grab. Conveniently, that attempt will be made just prior to Simmons having a disabling stroke.
But the central point, the value, of this book, is how society treats an aging population. In this novel, we find a discussion of Alzheimer’s as well as other types of dementia such as “post-operative cognitive disorder.” (loc 1139-1140).
This is a satisfying novel with a humanist perspective. I will be looking for more of this author’s work.