Katia Reviews "Fellowship Point"
Katia reviews Fellowship Point by Alice Elliott Dark
Alice Elliott Dark caught me by surprise with her latest novel, Fellowship Point. The cover is easily missed: just a grainy photo of a forest opening up to the sun setting over a lake. It's thick—about 600 pages—and centers on a lifelong friendship between two women in their eighties. If not for a glowing review in the New York Times, I might not have picked it up, but I am certainly glad that I did.
Agnes, in her eighties, is a sharp-witted and prickly writer who never married and is devoted only to her writing and her beloved friend, Polly. Polly is sweeter, more tempered, and chose a different path in life than Agnes: that of a mother and a wife. Agnes dislikes Polly's husband, Dick, in part because he diverts her attention, but mostly because he is an insecure, vaguely sexist man who treats Polly carelessly and dismissively. Despite 80 years worth of slights, small resentments, and traumas, Agnes and Polly's friendship is tender and strong—until one day, it isn't.
You might be concerned that the story is turning to tired tropes of the cantankerous vs the sweet old lady. It may be that Agnes and Polly came from these stereotypes, but Dark turns them on their head, giving us some of the most complex, frustrating, endearing characters I've ever met.
This book is meant to be hyper-realistic and seems to mimic the slow passing of time for its characters, who are in the process of tying up loose ends in their lives. They do not have much to look forward to; instead they reckon with the past, and savor the time they have together in the present. This necessitates a different kind of "plot" that is less focused on "what happens" and more on the internal worlds of each character. They wonder about their legacies, wonder about the choices they have made, wonder about what the future will look like when they are gone. They try to make sense and beauty of the long, complex lives they have lived.
I don't want you to think the novel is entirely internal, though. It grapples with many questions: of land and to whom it truly belongs; of love and the ways that it endures; of wealth, justice, trauma, and the invisibility of older women. It was heartening to read from the perspective of women in late age, not only because we rarely see their narratives, but because I want to see that we do not stop changing and fighting and caring when we pass fifty—despite what much of the world would have us believe. I am so thirsty for examples of aging: what it looks like, what it feels like, that though there are harrowing parts, there are joyful ones, too. Dark lovingly provides this, and for that I am grateful.
Of course, it's not a perfect story. How could it be, with close to 600 pages? There were some final "twists" that fell flat for me, or seemed too tidy when most of the book was exquisitely complicated. However, Fellowship Point is full of poignant observations, little joys, and expertly rendered relationships. I don't exaggerate when I say I got chills almost every page. Eventually, I gave up dog earring or underlining passages because I would have ended up marking the entire book. As a whole, Alice Elliott Dark's 20 year project is a masterfully done homage to enduring friendship and the fierce inner lives of women.