In his new short story "Snowbirds," part of the collection A Permanent Member of the Family (Ecco/Harper Collins), Russell Banks offers a portrait of Isabel Pelham, who with her husband George arrives in Miami Beach for an experiment in winter living. One morning on the tennis court, however, George "dropped to his knees as if he'd won the final at Wimbledon and died of a heart attack." Isabel's friend Jane flies from New York to comfort her, only to discover the new widow is not as burdened by grief as she might have expected. After a few glasses of wine, Jane, younger and conscious of her own marital friction, contemplates Isabel's new situation with detectable envy.
She stood and walked to the window and looked out. A half moon hung in the southwest quadrant of the sky. The lights of the city glistened on the rippled black surface of the bay, and the headlights of the cars on the arched causeway steadily crossing from the mainland to Miami Beach looked like gold beads sliding down a string. She could understand how the prospect of living out her sixties and then her seventies and maybe even her eighties alone in Miami Beach had excited Isabel. It was a new world, a semitropical, Latin American city where everything worked because it was not in Latin America. A wholly new life awaited her here. After almost forty years of marriage, Isabel, like any woman, had made so many small compromises and concessions to align her view of what was desirable and necessary with her husband's view that she probably didn't know any longer what was desirable or necessary to herself alone. Jane understood how, suddenly cut loose from George's cautious, reticent nature, Isabel might find the idea of living here six months a year exciting, enticing, liberating. Becoming a snowbird was the really big thing, the thing that George himself would never have embraced. He might have been willing to try it out, but only to demonstrate what a bad idea it was.