Joy and Aaron Bergman have been the matriarch and patriarch of the family for years. A family that includes son Daniel and daughter Molly, now grown and living their own lives.
Daniel is married to Coco and has two daughters, Ruby and Cora.
Molly married and divorced Doug Harkavy, and the two have a grown son, Ben. Molly now lives in California with her female partner, Freddie.
Like most families, there are issues. But the primary one at the beginning of They May Not Mean To, But They Do, is that Aaron is dying. But the process of dying is eating up the funds, which were already considerably depleted by Aaron, via gambling and risk-taking.
Joy is adamant that Aaron will not leave the family home. An assisted-living facility is something she has fought against, so home help is provided. The funds continue to dwindle.
The primary setting is Manhattan, where the family has lived over the years. They own a second home that Joy inherited, north of the city. Daniel and Molly try to get Joy to sell the house they’ve dubbed Upstate, a getaway named thus because of its geographical location. It is a place with no mortgage that could generate much-needed funds, but there is a dilemma. It is also a symbol of the past memories of good times as a family. A place to connect.
What happens when Joy is finally left a widow? Will she reclaim her life, or will she continue to struggle? Why does she feel dismissed and ignored by her children and grandchildren, even when they are all together? Why does she sense that they are eagerly awaiting her death, so they can sell the house Upstate and organize the financial mess of her life?
Alternating narratives show us the family in all of its chaos, with occasional sweet moments. I found myself disliking Daniel, who loves to control and organize things, and while I can relate to those feelings, I felt hurt for Joy, whose feelings were often overlooked. As if she has already gone. As if she is invisible.
The story moved slowly for me, mostly because the process of Aaron’s dying took up a large chunk of the book, a process that was depressing, but very real, too.
So…the meandering through the life moments felt necessary. There was also some humor, as Joy was a character that showed a self-deprecating quality. I loved observing her still making discoveries about herself at her age, despite her physical frailties. A reminder that we all must face our mortality at some point, and hopefully, our families will support us. In the end, would Joy’s family finally see her? 4.5 stars.