Best novel of the year

Bliss, Remembered by Frank Deford
Bliss, Remembered is everything a novel should be.
That’s what I thought, about halfway through.
And then. It. Got. Even. Better.
I swear to you, this is a gorgeous book.
It’s a story of long-lost love, recounted by a wonderfully vibrant octogenarian, and by her middle-aged son whose narrative frames his mother’s story (and whose relationship with his mom is utterly charming).
And there are Olympic swimmers and Nazis. OK, are you sold yet?
Sydney (that’s the mom), who is dying of cancer, calls her son Teddy to stay with her for a while. And she begins to tell him about part of her life that she has kept secret for 60 years.
In 1936, she was on the swimming team that competed in the Berlin Olympics. And while she was there (here comes the secret part)… she met a man. An utterly gorgeous and smart and charming young man named Horst. And they fell in love.
(Poor Teddy had never heard of this dude, and it’s wonderful how he inwardly resents the guy for competing with his father—whom his mom had not yet even met!—for his mom’s affection. Makes me smile.)
Of course, Syndey couldn’t stay in Germany, and Horst couldn’t leave Germany (compulsory military service and all), so it was a long-distance affair for quite some while. And then he wrote her a letter. And that was the end of that.
And then Sydney met the young and talented Jimmy in New York, and eventually he won her over, and eventually they were married. And they had a good life. They did. And she still buys flowers on the anniversary of his death, and it’s clear that she adored her husband.
But as she talks about Horst, it is “bliss, remembered.”
And this book just is so darn good.
At first, it reminded me of Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger and Susan Minot’s Evening, both of which are novels in which a dying woman recalls the one great love of her life. But those books are told through more of a haze, while this book is crisp. And there’s a pert tone to Sydney’s narration; she ain’t dead yet.
And her story has become my new favoritest book of the year.