Writing: 5 Characters: 5 Plot: 3
New word for me: Lordotic (an abnormal forward curvature of the spine in the lumbar region, resulting in a swaybacked posture)
Millard Salter – a Consulting Psychiatrist who “provides mental health services for the physically ill in hospitals” has decided to commit suicide on his 75th birthday. In his own terms, his is a “rational suicide”, a “curated death”. He simply doesn’t want to end his days in the same painful, feeble, isolated way of so many others. This book is the story of this last day.
The story is told completely from his perspective – we see events, characters, and the past, solely through his eyes. Poignant memories, surprising interactions, and a panoply of characters fill the pages. Reading the memories of the old Jewish neighborhood in the Bronx felt like a love letter to me. We are deftly moved from childhood memories to current events to recent memories, from minor irritations at work (a baby lynx has gone missing at the hospital) to major irritations at the graveyard (his burial plot has been usurped!). This is no painful Proustian obsession – quite a bit actually happens on this day – I was surprised to reach the end and realize that only a day had passed.
The writing is excellent – clear and incisive and full of brilliant lines. Millard says of his recently deceased wife Isabelle: “she possessed a knack for distilling people”. I would say the same is true of the author. Character after character, line after line, just nailed it. Thinking about his son, Lysander, Millard finds himself “pondering whether a man who hadn’t yet amounted to a bucket of warm glue might not generate an artistic or literary masterwork at the age of 43…”. I really had to read that line a few times. Great use of fun words too (I’m always pleased when someone can use tatterdemalion persuasively in a sentence.
One note – the descriptive blurbs on Amazon are completely misleading. This book has nothing in common with “A Man Called Ove” aside from the two main characters sharing initial thoughts of suicide. Ove is a curmudgeon (a bad-tempered or surly person according to dictionary.com), but Millard is not. He is neither bad-tempered nor surly – he does have many opinions that don’t always adhere to the accepted norms of the society but I find it interesting that non conformity automatically stamps with him with curmudgeonhood! Millard has many opinions that are clearly his own – well thought out and adhering to no particular ideology. I found it insightful and refreshing.
I really loved this book – Millard’s voice is one I will remember for a long time.