Many of us wish we could reclaim our youth, particularly those years when everything and anything was still possible. But few of us actually dare to try.
In “Time Flies,” the latest novel by Scituate native Claire Cook, two women give it a whirl. The author recently visited from her new home in Atlanta to talk about the novel and personally introduce some of her fans to Melanie and B.J., the heroines of this charming saga.
“Time Flies” tells the story of two women who make a road trip to their high school reunion and explore the boundaries of fun, friendship, and secret fears.
The soon-to-be divorced Melanie finds herself alone in the Atlanta suburbs after her husband has moved out for another woman.
Although she enjoys her life and takes pleasure in her work as a metal sculptor, she wonders if there could be something more.
She initially balks when best friend, B.J., contacts her about attending their high school reunion in coastal Massachusetts. But when a high school flame starts up a mild flirtation with her via e-mail, she begins to relent and eventually decides to take the plunge.
With B.J.’s persistence, Melanie overcomes her phobia of highway driving, and the two friends embark on the journey, which turns into the adventure of a lifetime for the duo.
Speaking at the Scituate Town Library last month, Cook said she has always enjoyed movies that capture the essence of strong female friendship, like “Thelma and Louise” and “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion.”
“In this novel, Melanie and B.J. could be said to resemble Romy and Michele in the next stage of life, where any road trip involves taking along some emotional baggage,” Cook said.
Anne Griffin, a 53-year-old Weymouth resident who attended the event, said she has read practically all of Cook’s novels because the characters are “funny, quirky, and totally likable.”
According to Griffin, “every middle-aged woman will discover something of herself” in Melanie.
Although some people will see “Times Flies” as a breezy beach read, Griffin said, the book reminds us that no phase of life is without its challenges.
Melanie “recognizes that even with kids grown, and a failed marriage to her credit, there’s still time to create the next chapter of life,” Griffin said.
Cook herself acknowledged, “While ‘Time Flies’ is a character-driven novel, highlighting fun and friendship, it also conveys my observation that every middle-age woman has either accomplished — or contemplated — reinventing herself at least once.”
For Griffin, however, it was the vivid description of Melanie’s driving phobia that had the most impact.
“For anyone who has ever fought a phobia, it can be paralyzing,’’ Griffin said. “Melanie’s driving panic not only got in the way of attending her reunion, but also made daily life difficult.”
As a psychologist, I think “Time Flies” sheds light on a real problem that can emerge at any age. But it is critical to distinguish between a fear and a phobia.
A fear is an emotional response to a real or perceived threat, and will evoke mild to moderate anxiety. Alternatively, with a phobia, a person will spend an inordinate amount of time and an unnecessarily large effort to avoid what they fear. Their hypervigilance and anxiety is so strong that it interferes with quality of life or ability to function.
The key distinction is that the effort to avoid or isolate oneself from the frightening stimuli is qualitatively much larger in a phobia and may include rearranging the day, work commitments, or social life. Additionally, with a phobia, there is often intense shame. The threat of being exposed, scrutinized, or judged for having such anxiety may create the desire to escape and hide.
Cook said she did not intend for the book to focus on phobias.
“I just stumbled on the fact that 40 percent of women experience a full-blown phobia at some point in life, and I wanted to learn more. I personally hate driving on busy highways, and I know lots of other women do, too,” she said.
“Above all I wanted to create rich, full, characters by relying on authentic details that make their experiences believable,’’ Cook said. “But, my overall hope is to bring humor and laughter to the world.”
Griffin clearly feels “Time Flies” does just that.
“Cook’s narrative is entertaining and charming,’’ Griffin said, “and ‘Time Flies’ belongs in everyone’s beach bag this summer.”Nancy Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.