Panama (spwebdesign) wrote,

Book 20

  1. Pohl, Frederik — Gateway (278 pages)
  2. Clement, Hal — Mission of Gravity (193 pages)
  3. Benford, Gregory — Timescape (499 pages)
  4. O'Hare, Mick (editor) — Why Don't Penguins Feet Freeze? and 114 Other Questions (232 pages)
  5. Dos Passos, John — Number One (218 pages)
  6. Heller, Joseph — Catch-22 (457 pages)
  7. St. John of the Cross — Dark Night of the Soul (119 pages)
  8. Day, Dorothy — The Long Loneliness (286 pages)
  9. Allen, Ted, Kyan Douglas, Thom Filicia, Carson Kressley, and Jai Rodriguez — Queer Eye for the Straight Guy: The Fab 5's Guide to Looking Better, Cooking Better, Dressing Better, Behaving Better, and Living Better (250 pages)
  10. Whittemore, Carroll E., ed. (William Duncan, illus.) — Symbols of the Church (59 pages)
  11. Hardy, Thomas — Jude the Obscure (507 pages)
  12. Lee, Harper — To Kill a Mockingbird (278 pages)
  13. Mann, Thomas (Helen T. Lowe-Porter, transl.) — Death in Venice (73 pages)
  14. Kempis, Thomas à — The Imitation of Christ (165 pages)
  15. West, Canon Edward N. — Outward Signs: The Language of Christian Symbolism (232 pages)
  16. Alexander, Lloyd — The High King (253 pages)
  17. Bellairs, John — St. Fidgeta & Other Parodies (84 pages)
  18. Endo, Shusaku — Silence (300 pages)
  19. Moorcock, Michael — Behold the Man (137 pages)
  20. Pouncey, Peter — Rules for Old Men Waiting (208 pages)

Page count: 4,828 of targeted 12,500.

Peter Pouncey was a Dean at Columbia for University for several years and then President of Amherst College for ten. chrishansenhome is an alumnus of Columbia and I of Amherst. With this connection, and both of us being into books, it's natural that the subject of Peter Pouncey and his novel came up. I expressed interest in reading it, and chrishansenhome just happened to have a copy. It took me a year to get around to it—really, I need to be better about reading recommended books in a timely fashion!—but I'm glad I did.

This first (and only, so far) novel by Pouncey concerns an old man, MacIver, as he faces his steady decline and imminent death shortly after his wife similarly succumbed to disease. He initially allows grief and self-pity to get the better of him, but he pulls himself together after a near brush with death and decides to face his end with dignity and on his own terms. He devises a set of rules that will allow him to reclaim what he can of his life. Thus, parts of the book tracks his progress, as I did with my Lenten vows this past spring: we read about the music he listens to and his efforts to eat nutrituous meals and keep adequately warm. But much more than this, Rules for Old Men Waiting weaves together a series of vignettes and reminiscences through which MacIver reconciles his life.

One of his rules states that he must dedicate a period of every day to "work." After being haunted by "apparitions" (vivid daydreams and hallucinations) as well as dreams that disrupt his sleep, he decides that he must exorcise these ghosts by writing their story. (Sound familiar, wordjames?) Thus, we are treated to a story within the story, the boundaries between the two often blurred.

The novel isn't flawless, as first novels so seldom are. Some of the characters are just a little too perfect to be believable, especially MacIver's wife. (MacIver borders on the Mary Sue-ish as well, as even his shortcomings are built up to be more super-human than anyone else's. Perhaps this is a result of a life spent within the protective, Utopian confines of elite academia?) Yet for all that, MacIver is an endearing subject, perhaps precisely because he is such an uncanny projection of his creator.

This is one of the few novels I've read where I know the author personally (and, really, I don't know Michael Crichton that well, so he shouldn't count). I was delighted that Pouncey's dry, ascerbic wit comes through so well. It was always a pleasure listening to the man speak at various functions my first two years at Amherst. He could bring an audience to tears, midway through a serious oration, with a deadpan remark, spoken in an impeccable Oxford accent, about someone having a "banana up his arse." I enjoyed spotting the various tips of the hat to Amherst as I read Rules for Old Men Waiting: the names of buildings, famous alumni (James Merrill), the first-year humanities course he taught, his notorious obsession with Thucydides, et cetera.

At its heart, despite countless meanderings through conquests on the rugby pitch, trench warfare in World War One Flanders, naval victories in World War Two Aquitaine, salacious sexcapades, and scholarly debates, Rules for Old Men Waiting is a love story told artfully and with restraint. There's a lot in this relatively slim volume, and I'm confident all could find something to like about it.

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