Her book has a story line. It opens in November 2014, with her 70th birthday. Her husband gives her an exquisite ring — a symbol of unbroken union. However, lest we get sentimental, the book is ornamented with twirled cancer-memorial ribbons, cut short at both ends.
The story ends in November 2016 with the victory of Donald Trump and the anniversary of Kristallnacht. Gubar’s father, who escaped the Holocaust, killed himself in the safety of America when she was 15, leaving no explanation. Historical trauma is Gubar’s supposition. Hitler finally killed him.
This isn’t the only time Gubar has confronted suicide. Her mentor, Carolyn Heilbrun, killed herself while the balance of her mind was entirely sound. Gubar, however, has resolved to fight on. This book says why. She has too much love, given and received, to live for: as wife, mother, grandmother and friend.
A marriage broker would classify Gubar and her husband, her Indiana University colleague Donald J. Gray, as chalk and cheese. She is New York Jewish; he Chicago and cradle Catholic. Back in 1994, when they moved into a house they called the Inverness, both were making late-life second starts with painful experience behind them. He is almost two decades older, but — up to the point at which the book begins — hale. Now his body is letting him down. They must find somewhere smaller and kinder to his suddenly infirm legs.
“Late-Life Love” is an easier read than “Memoir of a Debulked Woman,” although there are moments when pain sears through. One night Gubar has an “accident” — her excrement-containing ostomy bag, girdled to her stomach, oozes with messy seepage. Cleaning up, she catches sight of herself in the bathroom mirror. There’s “every mark of an old crock: a tall scarecrow with a balding head, no eyebrows or eyelashes, a bump on my chest where a port was embedded, abdominal surgical scars, no pubic hair, a plastic bag hanging from my belly, what little flesh there is hanging downward too. I don’t look like the person I used to be; I am not the person I used to be.”