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[384] Rules for Old Men Waiting – Peter Pouncey

” It was as though he was rehearsing once more the slow attrition that he had watched in Margaret, following the steps of her emaciation to a quick end. But that was not way he saw it. The reason he could do more of the necessary things to take care of himself, on the few occasions when he thought of them, was that he was preoccupied elsewhere. ” (12)

In 1987, octogenarian Robert MacIver, retired historian and professor, in growing alone. In failing health, he is debilitated by grief over his wife’s recent death. In a remote, unheated house at Cape Cod, the old man is hiding out during his last days. With a haunting atmosphere evocative of The Fall of the House of Usher, of which both the house and its master are slowly crumbling away, Pouncey’s novel seems to be promising.

Over the next two days, pottering around the house, he evolved his Rules for Winter Watch/Rules for the Inside Game: what they really were was a plan to take back his life, until he could give it away an acceptable basis. (17-8)

The planned withdrawal dictates healthy living through a balance of nutrition, books, music, and writing: to keep himself as alert and happy as possible. As Robert embarks ion writing a war story that will be his last achievement in life, numerous stories and fragments, some autobiographical and other imaginary, take hold of the narrative.

I see how MacIver takes tally of his life memories, creating for his war story characters based on subjects he interviewed in his oral history research. But the fictional narrative he constructs and which becomes the dominant plot is far less interesting, let alone relevant, than the mundane details of his illness in the beginning.

The fictional tale must have evoked the excruciating memory of his son, who perished in Vietnam, and whose loss had been the worst thing that had ever happened to his marriage. At one point, he and wife lived apart. A shrink he saw mentions he has the greatest marriage, which Pouncey should have explore in depth but has instead neglected. The marriage, as important as it seems, is no more than peripheral—cloying in simple sentiment but unsupported by scenes. The novel has the perfect intention to show the turmoil of one’s grief and dislocation after a spouse’s death. It does show how one’s real lies deep within and that which justifies one’s desire to go through the final ordeal alone. But with the way these memories and fragments are randomly jammed together, Pouncey is completely missing the mark. I have read much better novels that treat the same subject matter in a more powerful form, like The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. It’s outrageous a reviewer compared this book to Wallace Stegner’s work.

221 pp. Trade Paperback. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

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2 Responses

  1. Okay, now read The House of Tomorrow. Totally unrelated in content but a wonderful must-read. I think you will love it.

  2. [...] It’s been way too long that I cannot recall. What was the last book you gave to someone else? Rules for Old Men Waiting by Peter Pouncey. What was the last book you stayed up too late reading? In Cold Blood by Truman [...]

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