The title of this novel represents the author’s premise that everyone, somewhere along the line, has an optimistic decade in their lives.
“The Optimistic Decade,” is Abel’s first novel, though she comes to it after a background in writing essays for numerous well-known publications. It’s the story of Rebecca, who’s nearly college age, the only child of parents who have, throughout her life, been strongly involved in doing battle with her apathy, which is present in most of us who simply go with the flow.
Rebecca's father, Ira, is perpetually angry, which is reflected in all parts of his life including a small newspaper he operates with relatively limited circulation. Ira ‘s wife Georgia tries to moderate this constant anger, but is mostly unsuccessful.
Ira's nephew, Caleb Silver, appears on the scene from parts unknown with a plan to start a back-to-nature summer camp for children and adolescents of well-to-do parents. He has already named the camp Llama-lo, and is charismatic enough to find funding to establish the camp. At the insistence of her parents, Rebecca finds to her horror that she has been recruited as a camp counselor, thus abruptly moving from a lifetime of radical politics to a world she knows nothing about.
Caleb positions himself as the all-knowing, all-seeing guru, easily done with the naïve campers. As the story develops, he turns out to be grasping and dishonest, while Rebecca slowly grows from being a bystander in life, to seeing herself as independent, capable of forming her own opinions and becoming more assertive.
The story is populated by a raft of interesting and vital characters who are all important; to say more about them would detract from the overly-optimistic beginning – you know it can't end well – yet the end is one you don’t see coming.
“The Optimistic Decade” is difficult to put down: this reviewer did, but only to answer basic needs, remaining eager to return to the story. This is one of the better novels that I've read in many moons.