By Christina Myers
According to publisher Caitlin Press Inc., Christina Myers is a former journalist, freelance writer and editor, and a lifelong book nerd. She is the editor of the BC bestselling non-fiction collection BIG: Stories About Life in Plus-Sized Bodies (Caitlin Press, 2020) and her writing has appeared in anthologies, newspapers, magazines, and online.
In her novel The List of Last Chances, 38-year-old Ruthie finds herself newly unemployed, freshly single, sleeping on a friend's couch and downing a bottle of wine each night. Having overstayed her welcome and desperate for a job, Ruthie responds to an ad: a man named David is looking for someone to drive his aging mother, Kay, and her belongings from PEI to Vancouver. Ruthie thinks it's the perfect chance for a brief escape and a much-needed boost for her empty bank account.
But once they're on the road, Kay reveals that she's got a list of stops along the way that's equal parts sightseeing tour, sexual bucket-list, and trip down memory lane. As David prods for updates and a speedy arrival to his home in Vancouver, Kay begins to share details about a long-lost love and Ruthie takes a detour to play matchmaker, but finds herself caught up in a web of well-intentioned lies.
With the road ahead uncertain, and the past and present colliding, will Ruthie be able to forge a new path? Heartfelt and humorous, The List of Last Chances follows a pair of reluctant travel companions across the country, into an unexpected friendship, new adventures, and the rare gift of second chances.
Peggy McIntosh will read The List of Last Chances by Christina Myers. Peggy has 20+ years prior experience in sales, management and negotiation and is currently, a sales representative with Royal LePage Locations North/McIntosh Homes. She will represent Meaford.
Two women, decades apart in age, teetering on life’s sharp edge of forced change, have almost lost all belief in themselves but, they have not entirely lost hope. Ruthie and Kay embark on a life-shifting journey across Canada, which neither is either 'ready' nor particularly willing to make. Ruthie is motivated by heartbreak, Kay is willed by the well-meaning wish of her son. As author, Christina Myers, describes through Ruthie’s, voice: “There’s no such thing as 'ready'” when it comes to someone else deciding you ought to change your entire life. 'Ready' was for people who had a set out on a path, who had pointed and said, “That thing. Let’s do that.”
Kay and Ruthie take control of what they can, with Kay’s List of Last Chances — a bucket list of sorts — of things she plans to do on the way to 'being looked after.' The unlikely duo’s trip includes some reluctant soul baring, sexy explorations, tears, romance, laughter, & the physical and spiritual beauty that reveals itself on long Canadian car-rides.
In this time, as aging & single women numbers accelerate in Canada, the List of Last Chances delivers ageless hope. A hope that says, no matter what age, you always have one more chance at re-membering yourself, re-connecting with your joy, and re-igniting flames. And so, The List of Last Chances begins as a dangling carrot and becomes a feast of life’s little pleasures.
The List of Last chances opens in PEI, with an introduction to Ruthie and her room-mate, Jules. Ruthie and Jules have been living together for several months while Ruthie has spiralled into a red-wine-soaked, unemployed depression after having discovered her unfaithful partner of several years, in the act, in their own apartment, on their own couch. And, who has not been there? While Ruthie is 38, this calamity of misplaced cuddling has surely either touched or scarred each one of us at sometime. Ruthie, embodying what we may have willed to be, or do, in similar circumstances, is relatable.
Meanwhile in Vancouver, David March, has placed an ad in the PEI job postings for a driving companion/care provider for his Mother, Kay, to be escorted cross country to live with him. This son’s effort seems selfless and generous, but maybe unnecessarily controlling — and that sentiment is not lost on Mother, Kay.
Alas this matching comes together when Ruthie’s caring but exasperated roommate Jules, sets the wheels in motion with preparing Ruthie’s resume and convincing her to submit it to David. Within a few short hours, Ruthie has met, and now carries a lingering interest in David, meets & feels a mutual connection with Kay. Within a few days, Kay and Ruthie are off in a rented van, both with a few personal effects and Kay’s List of Last Chances. What follows is a fast-read — some soul-searching, some fun, some tears, and an unexpected reconnection with Kay’s soul-mate, and what may be Ruthie’s too.
Ruthie McInnes: I’m not sure that I like Ruthie. As I have come to know her as a character who doesn’t immediately see the gifts she has been granted by the people around her. Jules, Kay, Bernie, David, and even Jack her ex, graced Ruthie’s life with meaningful lessons — which we, as reader, get to acknowledge. As reader, I became frustrated because Ruthie does not see the people around her as presents! But, in recognizing Ruthie in myself, I realize — I have been there. When the presence of people, love-ly or not, has gone unappreciated in my own life.
Ruthie is 38. She is the voice of the Author. The Story is told through Ruthie’s voice. She is recently separated from a man that, late into the novel, she admits she is not even sure she loved — but that was a perfect fit. She is estranged from a family where she felt inferior to her sister for a variety of reasons including the sister’s beauty, and the sister being considered a responsible adult with husband and children. She grew up in Quebec, moved to PEI, and had never really traveled west of Ontario. Ruthie never traveled anywhere it seems, because her ex partner, now traveling with his new girlfriend to southern destinations, would never take her there Ruthie strikes me as needy & and not particularly self sufficient. Her conflict resolution then and later in the novel is red wine. But at the very end of the book — she resolves by facing her self and her wishes. She eventually recognizes where she has been wrong-minded, creating fantasy relationships, and judging those who do not live up to the fantasy. It will be determined if she remains in reality or takes a deep dive into the fantasy that she creates to placate her life. Some clues to Ruthie’s character that gave me reason to believe she was not seeing all things as they are:
If someone would cut me off while driving home “ I was still pissed off 3 hours later…”…
“Sometimes I wasn’t sure what was worse: being betrayed by Jack or the fact that no one was surprised when it happened…” “all it would take was his arm around my shoulder for me to come alive and feel safe enough to tell a joke” “I loved saying ‘we’ instead of ‘me’”…
Kay March: Kay is the main reason for loving The List of Last Chances — her character is that strong, that important and resonates deeply with the reader.
Kay March is 70. She is a widow and the mother of one son, no grandchildren. She had a home in PEI for more than 40 years including a garden that she tended and some land. She is physically strong and attractive. She is a big personality, who sends a message of an able-body, quick wit and thoughtful mind. However, Kay as the elder of the two travel companions and the recipient of her only son, David’s worried control, is vulnerable to the world’s expectations of the aged. In describing herself as many other women in her age group, Kay says this… “we are mostly widowed…suddenly a burden upon your kids; whether we want to be or not.” She is also Self aware and recognizes her vulnerability “ do you know how that feels to admit that your own body might not safely take you in and out of the bath?” and Strong too — as she insists on her fulfillment of the List of Last Chances, she reminds Ruthie, “But I’m your boss, actually.”
Kay begins the story resigned to her future, cast in the form of someone else’s vision of aged, but ends, recognizing she still can live every moment with love, and life in her blood, until she can no longer. My mother was Kay, and I will likely be Kay, too, someday, in the not so distant future. Kay’s list and Kay’s deliberations over her soul-mate, her life and how it will change — all are familiar to me and for me.
Jules: Jules is Ruthie’s room-mate, counsellor, and cleaner, cook, caregiver, and has housed Ruthie on her couch over 4 months. Jules may also be suspicious of the goodness in others, as she has taped her laptop camera so she cannot be “spied on”. Jules is a PSW, and worked in the same job, and location as Ruthie until Ruthe was let go. Jules is the same or close in age to Ruthie, 38. Jules is approximately the same size as Ruthie, since Ruthie borrowed (without permission or hesitation) a blouse of Jules’ for an unexpected short notice Skype meeting with David.
Jules is reliable. She is a wonderful support and comfort to Ruthie. She helped Ruthie pack her belongings from her shared apartment with Jack, she moved those belongings into her own storage area. “Jules reached out to comfort me like a mother might…” Ruthie described how she learned to comfort Kay, by recalling how Jules had comforted her.
Jules is thoughtful and generous — she found the job posting for Ruthie and prepared Ruthie’s resume including acquiring a recommendation letter from her former boss. Once Ruthie was hired, Jules wiped clean her old laptop and sent it with Ruthie.
Jules is single, “had fun dating casually” according to Ruthie. But, judging from Jules’ reaction to Ruthie’s judgement of her enjoying unattached sexual relationships, there may be more to her choice than we meet in this context.
Jules is forgiving — after the Ruthie Kay trip when Ruthie reached out — Jules accepted the opportunity to rekindle their friendship, evn so Ruthie had behaved poorly and had also not made any attempt to connect throughout the trip.
Without Jules, there may not have been a story at all.
Jack: Ruthie’s ex partner. Ruthie’s parents loved him. Jack is, according to Ruthie, “Movie-star handsome, funny and brilliant…” When Ruthie’s marriage to Jack began to tire, he was just good enough. Other than knowing that he cheated on Ruthie with a flowershop girl who worked in the store below their apartment — we don’t get many unfiltered glimpses of Jack. But Jack is Ruthie’s strength and comfort. Ruthie ignored or displaced real issues, with the hopes she had for them both. We learn that Jack maintained contact with family — something we do not see any evidence of from Ruthie. Jack had advised family that he was marrying the Flower Shop Girl with whom he had an affair — in Hawaii — where Ruthie claims she had always asked him to “take her”.
Jack lends us insight into Ruthie. He doesn’t try to resolve the relationship that has broken down leading to his affair, presumably because he no longer wants to.
We all know Jacks — the people who get blamed because they do the very thing that we expect them to when they want to move on, they move on. But for Ruthie, “Jack was a dream: stable, normal, fun-loving. Being at family events suddenly felt easier — I was one of the grown-ups”. Ruthie relied on Jack to form her reality.
Flower Shop Girl: It may be easy to dismiss this character as “The affair” girl because Ruthie does. She’s the one who was “cuter than me by about 10 years.” But, she is likely a woman of some substance — owning the Flower Shop in a PEI. Ruthie, herself admitting, that she had been genuinely sweet and someone Ruthie thought she could be friends with.
Bernie: Bernie Kowalski, 71. Widower. Lives in Rossland BC for more than 30 years. Bernie is “Solid and warm and safe”, a caring supporter of community and fellow man. He attends council meeting, volunteers with local hiking clubs, plays and teaches guitar. Bernie was, and eventually returns as, Kay’s boyfriend. And, as Ruthie learns more about him — she plans an unannounced unscheduled stop by his home in Rossland. As it turns out, Bernie becomes Kay’s re-claimed soul mate. They reluctantly share details about Their former “affair” that lasted many years during both his marriage and Kay’s marriage. Through that story we see how Bernie is a man of his commitments, and his heart is true — but he looked after a sickly wife, remained without children and never stopped loving Kay. Bernie is an integral part of the List of Last Chances. He is unplanned, unexpected, and unforgettable.
David: Born in PEI, David March — 44-ish, is a widower, and Kay’s son. David is handsome, sophisticated, as a sexy deep voice and is expressively caring. He becomes Ruthie’s unpronounced romantic interest, and Myers writes him into what we believe may be her lasting love interest. An Itinerary master/slave. Punctual — every email sent and returned on time. A worrier. David is the only son or child of Kay. Presents himself as Ruthie’s boss - but Kay is the true boss. David is deeply traumatized by the death of his wife and their unborn baby. He does not drive because of the car accident that took their life while he was away working. When Kay, on the trip, is not seriously injured, but hospitalized because of a fall — he ends the relationship with Ruthie. His conflict resolution skills are to take full control or to completely let go.
I almost did not read The List of Last Chances. My first choice was another title that I felt would surely resonate with me. After a strong effort to find my first choice, I settled into the e-version of the List of Last Chances, since the first choice was nowhere to be bought, borrowed or downloaded.
This was my first e-book experience, and I am grateful to the Meaford Public Library for connecting me to Hoopla.
I didn’t initially love the ebook experience - the font was wrong for me, so I adjusted it. I had to settle for lit pages, and not paper-pages.
The experience and the content had the start of the story feeling too ‘young’ for me. But I continued. By the second chapter, with a gut-flipping ah-ha moment, I knew The List of Last Chances had found me, as much as I found it. I recognized myself in Ruthie, the heart broken 38-year-old who was lost in a meaningless life and Kay, the 70 something cross Canada car-ride seeker, reflected first my mother, and then, me. They had both been and both are me. I had experienced my own loss of hoped for love in my first marriage, moved in with a friend and found my way through to my understanding of my own cause for heartache. Knowing I had crafted a relationship of fantasy, while sweeping reality under carpets, as Ruthie had done, was complicated. While realizing that Kay, as my own Mother had — had lived a life that was “good enough”, and late in life, rekindled a relationship with her young self’s soul-mate, was like looking in a mirror covered with life’s dust.
The resounding theme of The List of Last Chances is to love your life, and live it at every moment with respect for ITS moment, its meaningful, giddy and tearful depth, and its brevity.
This is a story that traces some of the story of my own “journey” with my mother. And as I quickly came to know the two characters Ruthie and Kay I wondered if the author had heard me tell my story somewhere.
Christina Myers keeps the story quick, and although on the surface, it’s a fun and easy read — the experiences & the corresponding philosophical sound bites are authentic and make the Kay and Ruthie’s journey relevant & thought provoking. I could not help but reflect on deliberating over the care of my own mother — how much was too much, too little, and my own mother’s reactions to family attempts to be supportive. With the aging population we are apart of, the independent children of the 1950’s and 60’s coming into Kay’s age group, will not be easily convinced of their own frailty. There are bound to be many Lists of Last Chances sitting on the bedside tables.
Canadian Statistics (2016) show that for every 80 something year old man, there are two single 80 something year old women. Further aging into the 90s, women in Canada are 5 times in number to men. Women need to learn how to become one another’s companions, and support regardless of age, and, in particular, as we age. The List of Last Chances is set in today’s world of enabled interconnectedness, while still showing how lonely we can all be until we open to the person sitting next to us — in a van, in an apartment, and in our living rooms.
The List of Last Chances warns us about giving control and meaning to our life to others. Taking back & maintaining responsibility for our lives is and should be an on going effort. We, like Kay and Ruthie, must be aware, and be in the moment that is, and make it our own.
Humans cope by connecting with the people who have known us, and importantly – by connecting with ourselves and knowing who we are in reality. The List of Last Chances takes this heavy and deeper meaning and expands on it with experiences – dancing, exploring our sexuality, our humour, and our truths.
The List of Last Chances delivers a human story of aging, of loss, of being afraid & lost and does so with real experiences, storytelling at its finest. It is written so that a reader can take it lightly as just a great story of two women navigating a journey and invites exploration of what it means to be living a life that aligns us to ourselves and our growth.
I loved the story and would recommend it for young, and anyone who is getting older. We all need The List of Last Chances to play a role in our daily lives as we travel our own path, and the path that is directed by others for us.