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Pouncey, Peter: Rules for Old Men Waiting

Random House © 2005, 210 pages [amazon]
5 stars

[This review appeared originally in The Picolata Review.]

After the death of his wife Margaret in the spring of 1987, Robert MacIver himself fell into disrepair--failing to eat properly or to keep in contact with his former colleagues, not seeing to the work that needed doing on his isolated house on the Cape, more decrepit and older, even, than he. Given his failing health, some malady, never named, from which he suffers, MacIver's further decline is inevitable. He is resigned to it, nearly welcomes it, but after an accident jolts him from his despair he determines, as he puts it, to retrench. He establishes a set of ten rules for himself, "a simple skeleton of the well-ordered life for a feeble old man," by means of which he intends to live with some dignity until the end, and to approach death on something like his own terms. The rules include practical instructions for keeping himself fed and clothed and clean as well as directives for keeping the house heated. Having failed to lay in firewood during his months of lethargy, this last is a serious issue. MacIver decides that he will burn picture frames and furniture--though not "articles of fine craftsmanship"--as well as "books of rival scholars and other trash, before good books and my own." Arguably the most important of MacIver's ten rules, however, is that in which he imposes on himself some manner of work. As a retired professor of history, specializing in the First World War, it is not surprising that MacIver elects as his final project in life to tell a story set in the trenches of that conflict. The story he writes, of men consumed by rage over private grievances, is as nuanced and well-written and compelling as MacIver's own. It spills into the book in fragments as MacIver writes it, the stories of his life and his imagination moving in lock-step toward their inexorable, parallel ends.

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About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Reading Herodotus: A Guided Tour through the Wild Boars, Dancing Suitors, and Crazy Tyrants of The History. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.

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