Surely the worst thing about moving into a retirement community must be not wanting to, or not feeling ready to do so. Yet author Reg Henry, in crafting a novel around such a premise, chronicles another degree of devastation when the reluctant husband who moves from their home to please his wife, awakens on the first morning in captivity to find his beloved has died.
Fortunately, Henry spends the rest of his 84,000 words inching his protagonist through all the quirky and hopeful moments toward a blissful conclusion, all of which keep the reader equally hopeful and engaged.
The novel, “Love in the Late Edition,” released this past September, might be considered a pandemic product after taking advantage of the time to write while sheltering in place. Except Henry, a journalist who spent nearly five years of his international career as editor of the Monterey Herald, is retired. The title suggests a spoiler alert for the outcome of the story, while also paying a subtle homage to the newspaper industry.
“My inspiration for the novel,” said Henry, “actually came from a friend who was getting on in life, and had moved into a retirement community. He began to tell stories, some very funny and others with some poignancy. And I realized, except for the ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ — very British but set in India — no one had written about this.”
Henry’s descriptive detail brings readers into the story as if the writer were actually there, witnessing each moment of this fiction and recording it in vivid detail. Those who have lived this or have witnessed life in a retirement community say it’s all quite accurate, and surely there is no such thing as fiction — just another way of telling someone’s story.
Because the novel is written in the first person in the style of an autobiography, it’s hard to remember that this is the writer’s story but not his experience. Neither Reg Henry nor Priscilla, his wife of 44 years, is looking toward retirement living at this time. Yet, through his insightful lens, we experience the community with appreciation, something almost to be envied, if only for the sense of belonging his characters create. Moreover, unlike the protagonist’s dearly departed, Priscilla Henry is quite alive.
Where else but a period piece portraying the upper echelon of society would a couple actually be called “Reginald and Priscilla,” Henry muses.
“It all began when I went with a friend to a Greek island, and there, perched on a rock, was a blonde woman in a bikini,” said the Australian-born Henry. “The sun was on the water, and I was totally smitten. I met this American woman, who became my wife and, eventually, the back story for the lead character in my book. Watch out who you kiss in this life; it can change everything.”
Although raised in Australia, Henry’s career has taken him so far and wide throughout the world that he believes his voice belies where he’s from. Yet the lilt and the pairing of words poetic to the American ear, are still there.
“My dad was a journalist, a manager of Reuters World News in the Far East, who became a war correspondent. Growing up,” said Henry, “hearing these wonderful stories, I couldn’t do anything but become a journalist. My father was in no position to hire me, but his reputation was such that soft nepotism got me a job.”
Yet Henry soon was called into the Australian Army and sent to Vietnam, where he worked in the Army’s public relations corps, through which he did a five-minute news broadcast, five days a week. Not unlike, he says, Robin Williams’ role in the 1987 film, “Good Morning Vietnam.” This experience created a seamless transition for Henry between his Army and journalism careers.
Henry spent five years on the sports desk at the Times of London before moving to Pennsylvania, where he served 10 years as deputy editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“We came to Monterey after I was invited to become editor for the Monterey Herald, which was then owned by the same family that owned the Post-Gazette. Five years later, the Herald was sold, and I was expelled from paradise,” said Henry. “So, we spent another 20 years in Pittsburg, where I became a nationally syndicated columnist.”
It was those columns that became fodder for Henry’s first book, “The Wry World of Reg Henry.”
Upon his retirement nearly six years ago, the Henrys decided to return to the Peninsula, where he became a docent at Point Lobos and the editor of the foundation’s magazine and newsletter. It was at Point Lobos that Henry found the setting for his novel, after learning that Whaler’s Cove was once slated for development into a community that would have been called “Carmelito.” Although the development was averted, it gave Henry the name of his fictitious town.
Henry realizes that some 70 million people receive social security benefits in this country, and he assumed this would be the segment of society inspired to read his book, “Love in the Late Edition.” Yet he has found his story actually reaches a wider audience.
“Inside every old, wrinkled body,” he said, “resides a young person trying to get out. While my novel has plenty of quirky characters, all quite recognizable to those who know retirement-community living, others may find they know these folks, as well.”
Although Henry began his book pre-pandemic, once the coronavirus came to this county, he assumed it meant death to his project. Perhaps because his tale is optimistic despite tragedy, he has found it to be a well-timed antidote to what ails us these days.
“My book, which straddles fiction and nonfiction,” he said, “is really about finding one’s self after tragedy, about moving from the shadows into the light. I expect readers will weep but also laugh. If so, I’ve done my job.”
“Love in the Late Edition,” whose evocative cover artwork was created by Nelly Kolhgrüber, and the cover was designed by Tracy Hopper, is available at River House Books in Carmel, at Bookworks in Pacific Grove and Star Market in Salinas. It also is available through Amazon.com, in both paperback and Kindle versions.
Contributed by local news sources