The Inheritance of Beauty
By Nicole Seitz
reviewed by Erin Z. Bass
In the author’s note at the beginning of her new book, Nicole Seitz writes: “This is a book about beauty and age, about the blessings and curses of each, and how the true beauty of a person – on the inside – never fades. May you know a love, a beauty, like this in your lifetime.”
Two paragraphs before, Seitz tells about her own grandmother, a beauty in her time whose photo graced the front page of the 1937 Charlotte Observer and eventually made its way to the New York World’s Fair. She passed away in 2009 at age 91 in a nursing home, and it’s obvious the book’s subject matter was inspired in some part by Seitz’s experience with her aging.
In my case, this book hit home because my own grandmother is in a nursing home and not able to physically do all the things she used to. Watching her has been tough, and I know it’s all a natural part of aging, but Seitz’s novel manages to examine the subject matter from a fresh perspective. Even though they’re elderly and not able to live on their own anymore, her characters have real thoughts and feelings, retain their sense of humor and still want to be a part of the world at the end of the day. It’s a valuable lesson I now keep in mind when driving up to the nursing home.
At the core of the story are Magnolia and George, childhood sweethearts who grew up in the Lowcountry of South Carolina and now live in Harmony House nursing home. A stroke has left “Maggie” unable to communicate, but George knows his wife is in there somewhere and desperately wishes to return to their afternoons spent running through the fields and swimming in Togoodoo Creek.
Woven between Maggie and George’s present-day thoughts are dark memories of the fateful day a stranger arrived on the train in their hometown of Levy and almost ruined their lives. With chapters alternating between the voices of different characters, including Annie, the couples’ caretaker, their childhood friend, Joe, and Maggie’s brother, Ash, Seitz keeps the plot moving, especially when a mysterious package arrives at the nursing home and the truth of Maggie and George’s childhood begins to unravel.
It’s Seitz’s truths about aging that make the book so endearing though.
“That package hinted she had a life before – before Harmony House, before age came and stole her away, before she ever married George Jacobs and had family with him,” reads a chapter in the voice of Annie. “If only George would read to me. If only he would speak to me and tell me what he has learned about Ash. If only he would understand that I am not dead yet. That I am still here. I am alive,” says Maggie in her trapped voice. “Age. Look at what it’s done to her. To us. Makes me so furious at whoever’s in charge,” vents George.
At times heartwrenching, “The Inheritance of Beauty” also manages to be funny and hopeful. For anyone who has an aging parent, grandparent or friend, this book will make you think twice about what you do and say the next time you visit them. Seitz wants us to remember that women with gray hair and wrinkles were once beautiful and men with thinning heads of hair and walkers used to be handsome and charming, and even though they’ve gotten older and may not be able to say things as articulately as they once were, they still have a voice. And it’s our job to listen.
Nicole Seitz grew up on Hilton Head Island surrounded by Southern characters and, as an author, her work is deeply influenced by her faith and the mystique and charm of the Lowcountry. “The Inheritance of Beauty” is her fifth novel (we included “Saving Cicadas” in our Summer Reading List last year) and has been chosen as a March Book Club Selection by She Reads, a Bonus Book Selection by Pulpwood Queens for April and Books-A-Million’s Faithpoint Book-of-the-Month for May. It is currently available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Christianbook.com and Indiebound.