by Kay Parley
Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing, 2016
The Sixth Age is a gentle comedic novel about a few months in the life of Allie Dutton, a poet, former farm wife, and practical prairie woman. Allie lives in a cooperative residence for aging creatives – emphatically not a nursing home, thank you very much – situated in the wondrous Qu’Appelle Valley. When some of the residents – actors, musicians, painters, and writers – decide to “put on a show” for the locals, Allie is drawn into the action despite her better judgement. Of course chaos ensues. Residents are falling ill, having accidents, getting lost. Government bureaucrats visit the residence, threatening to break up the community. And then Allie meets a carpenter who makes her wonder about love and second chances.
Author Kay Parley’s gang of elderly back-to-the-landers beautifully reflects the ethos of the mid 1970s. Although Parley wrote the manuscript decades ago, it has only recently been published, and its arrival is timely. The novel touches on issues relevant to many readers, but Parley herself felt the novel would reverberate with the Baby Boomers who are now beginning to retire. What does the Golden Generation want for themselves as they enter the sixth age of their lives? Allie’s story suggests one somewhat fanciful yet compelling option.
The key theme of this novel is dignity. How can we enjoy dignified lives as we age? How do we balance the need for independence against the need for community? What responsibility should we take for the choices others make? The seniors in The Sixth Age ignore conventional notions of what is good and proper post-retirement. They’re in no hurry to let others take charge of their lives. Yes, they’ve slowed down, but they aren’t doddering or incapable, and they reject the intrusion of the state and its ham-fisted sense of elder care.
That said, the story centres around Allie, who is by turns feisty and pragmatic. Every chapter opens with one of her poetic epigrams, some of them celebratory, some sardonic, and Allie’s firm sense of right and wrong generates mystery, romance, and laugh-out-loud comedy. Allie is a memorable character with a fresh voice and a wry sense of humour. Adults of any age are sure to enjoy seeing the world through her sharp eyes.
The Sixth Age starts quietly, but give it a chance to charm you. Its narrative offers insight into what people need to live satisfying lives once our working days have ended. Chances are, you’ll close the book wondering how you too could find a community like Allie Dutton’s.
This review was originally published on www.skbooks.com.