Expiration Date by Sherril Jaffe
Following what is presumably a supernatural vision, Flora believes she will die. What follows is Sherril Jaffe’s novel entitled Expiration Date. Flora finds herself in the Heavenly Court where a verdict is passed. She will die in twenty-five years. At the time the announcement is made, Flora is pregnant. The novel follows Flora’s impending date with doom, alternating chapters with her life and that of her mother, Muriel.
Muriel stands in opposition to her daughter’s predetermined death by avoiding a life in a nursing home outside San Francisco. She takes up with a taciturn gentleman named Wilbur, a former pilot who flew missions in Vietnam. Together, they travel from state to state on the bridge circuit. Flora frets about death and listens to the stories her husband, Jonah, a rabbi, tells her.
While the premise is fascinating, the execution remained disappointing. The prose felt inert and the characters remained thin and narratively undernourished. When Flora thinks about death, we find her with her husband as he attends to the pastoral needs of the sick and dying. In the novel, it reeked of authorial obviousness. It lacked subtlety and came across as a character doing too much navel-gazing. Another irking development involved Muriel’s affair with Wilbur. Muriel obsesses about having Wilbur discover her true age, since Wilbur is almost a decade and a half younger than she is. Unfortunately, Wilbur remains nearly silent throughout the time of their relationship. Snippets of background appear in places, but he remains a cipher, less a character than a human lawn jockey.
In the end, the novel just ends. The narrative ramps up anticipation to Flora’s date with death. What happens afterwards is anticlimactic, the slow deflating of the story into a tedious insignificance. Jaffe commits the egregious sin novelists should abhor: she made the novel boring.