True to its title, Martha Tod Dudman's new novel Black Olives is a salty and succulent treat, less than 200 tasty pages that are likely to be devoured in a single gulp—or, should I say, read.
From the first few pages, when Dudman's quirky and loveable middle-aged heroine Virginia spies her lost love David while admiring the gourmet olives in a neighborhood deli, readers will embark on a wild ride, bumping along the untamed landscape of a broken heart. Dudman's novel unveils both the joys and sorrows of mature love. As Virginia's curious and impulsive nature leads her toward what is certain to be emotional Armageddon, readers will find themselves torn between the conflicting urges to persuade, and then dissuade, her from revisiting a relationship torn asunder by betrayal. "And oh how I hate that working term people use about love," thinks Virginia, "as if love were some big hole you had to dig or rocks you had to carry from one place to another. Only maybe it is."
Spare and unpretentious, Dudman's prose portrays Virginia's devastation with honesty and clarity, never slipping into maudlin musing, but always moving the story ahead with a steady, sensitive hand. Unlike too many novels aimed at the peri-menopausal heart, Black Olives should not be categorized as "hen lit," and one could argue that the story would resonate with both men and women of a certain age. For example, Dudman refuses to excoriate David, who despite his flaws, is basically a decent, albeit befuddled, gentleman at heart. As Virginia reflects back on her decade-plus relationship, we learn that despite countless proposals, it was she who gave a thumbs-down to marriage. Of course, as the proverb goes, Virginia fails to realize what she has until he's gone. David's departure is mourned: not just the memories of great sex and deep friendship, but his bad habits as well.
The only complaint that readers might have with Black Olives is that it ends too soon. Dudman has crafted an addictive novel that will likely be devoured in one sitting, filling readers with a hankering for at least a handful more.