In a game of life or death, the seniors at Pondside Manor risk it all.
With help from Pondside Manor’s quirky, twentysomething kitchen worker Foster Kresowik, resident Robert Kallman creates The World of Pondside, a video game that delights the nursing home’s residents by allowing them to virtually relive blissful moments from days long past—or even create new ones.
One-legged Duane Lotspeich is overjoyed when he can dance the tango again. Octogenarian Laverne Slatchek cheers on her favorite baseball team from the stands at Candlestick Park with her beloved husband—who died years ago. Even the overwhelmed Pondside administrator escapes her job by logging into a much more luxurious virtual world.
Robert’s game enlivens the halls of Pondside Manor, but chaos ensues when he is found dead, submerged in the pond, still strapped into his wheelchair. If any resident witnessed his death, they’re not telling—either covering up or, quite possibly, forgetting. And it’s far from clear to anyone—including the police—if the death of this brilliant man, who suffered from ALS, was suicide or murder.
When Robert’s video game goes dark, its players grow desperate. The task of getting it back online falls to young Foster, who enlists help from a raucous group of residents and staff. Their pursuit—virtual and real—has unintended consequences, uncovering both criminal activities and the secret plans of Foster’s friend Robert. From Pondside Manor, this unlikely bunch of gamers embarks upon an astonishing journey—blissful, treacherous, and unforgettable.
Packed with sharp wit and compassion, Mary Helen Stefaniak has written a rousing, perceptive, and utterly original novel.
Point of view:
3rd person. Alternating perspectives.
This is one of those books that’s difficult to describe, because it’s complex: delightful, thought provoking, mysterious, sad, hilarious, relatable, sympathetic, and memorable.
At nearly 13 hours it’s a long listen, but there are so many characters and Stefaniak does such a thorough yet compelling job of weaving them all together that it didn’t feel like a burden. Each of these characters was so well constructed and realistic that it was impossible not to see someone I know in each of them. I became an NPC in the Pondside Assisted Living community.
Robert found a way to create a fantasy world via the alternate universe that was the game, The World of Pondside. When Robert dies of suspect cause, the residents and employees become embroiled in a variety of real world and virtual escapades. The mystery resolution felt a bit anti-climactic, but to me that wasn’t the central theme of the book as much as an adventure for the characters and listener. (The Cake is a Lie!)
Overall an enjoyable listen.
George Newbern was excellent. There was a HUGE cast of characters of a variety of ages, personalities, and emotional events. He did a great job helping to differentiate them all. I loved his performance.
Content Warnings (possible spoilers):
death of child at birth, dementia, ALS, loss of spouse
About the author:
Mary Helen Stefaniak is a writer of fiction and essays whose work has appeared in many publications, including The Iowa Review, EPOCH, The Yale Review, AGNI, and The Antioch Review, and in several anthologies, including New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best 2000 & 2006 (Algonquin Books) and A Different Plain (University of Nebraska Press). She has also served as a commentator on Iowa Public Radio, a columnist for The Iowa Source, and a contributing editor for The Iowa Review. She teaches in the M.F.A. program in writing at Pacific University in Oregon and in the International Summer School at Renmin University in Beijing, China.
You can connect with Mary Helen Stefaniak here:
About the narrator:
You can connect with George Newbern here:
My Favorite Quotes
now that remembering required considerable concentration and forethought, forgetting things had gotten easier and easier to do – The World of Pondside by @mhstefaniak @BlackstoneAudio #Audiobook narrated by @georgenewbern #Mystery #SuspenseTweet
Who needs an alternate reality more desperately than people in a nursing home? All the real world has to offer is a life sentence of institutional meals and fluorescent lighting. – The World of Pondside by @mhstefaniak @BlackstoneAudio #Audiobook narrated by @georgenewbern #Mystery #SuspenseTweet