THE FORMER CHIEF EXECUTIVE by Kate Vane
Self-published, June 8, 2017
The Former Chief Executive is a short and sweet little book. It tells the story of Deborah Stevens, a retired former hospital manager who’s just lost her husband to cancer. She hires young and charismatic Luca to look after her late husband’s garden, and the two forge a strange sort of friendship.
Despite the simple premise, there’s a lot going on in this book. The generational gap between Deborah and Luca takes center stage; an issue that Kate Vane tackles with insight and sensitivity, as she examines each of their distinct approaches to life. There’s arguably more nuance here than I’ve seen given to this sort of narrative before. Even though our protagonist is older, this isn’t a story which maligns millennials for laziness – on the other hand, Kate Vane acknowledges a lot of advantages that Deborah’s generation had.
This book is also an interesting meditation on mortality. While Luca’s girlfriend, Belle, is due to give birth in a short time, Luca is training to be a “death midwife,” someone who helps provide emotional support to terminally ill patients. Birth and death run parallel in this novel, which is ultimately a reflection on life itself, on whether anyone ever really knows what they’re doing.
Though mostly solid, the prose could stand a bit of polishing here and there. Little things – a few too many exclamation points and question marks outside of dialogue for my personal taste (despite the third person narration this is a very introspective book which reads like Deborah’s thoughts unfolding – a narrative voice which Kate Vane employs consistently, though it does start to grate at times when Deborah continues to muse to herself in the form of question after question). My only other complaint is that I thought it ended on a note that was incongruously abrupt given the pace up until that point.
That said, I was really charmed by this book. It’s a really brilliant character study that weaves together a host of distinct and memorable characters. Deborah is certainly flawed – proud, judgmental – but I liked her even more for that, because I love female characters who have all the complexity of real women. This was a great and thought-provoking quick read. I really enjoyed it.
Many thanks to the author for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This did not influence my feedback in any way. All opinions are my own.