I thought Peter Pouncey’s “Rule for Old Men Waiting” might be a bookend for “Nora Webster” which I just read and reviewed. Both are told from the perspective of spouses who had a very strong marriage. Nora Webster is a widow, MacIver, a Scottish history professor whose artist wife just died, is a widower.
There are differences. MacIver is near death and isolates himself to occupy his remaining time by writing a World War I short story. Pouncey’s book is more soliloquy and therefore less engaging than “Nora Webster” which uses well drawn characters to paint a picture of Nora Webster’s survival and growth in changing times. The intent of Mr. Pouncey’s book seems to be a version of war and remembrance. The biological and mental agony of those near death seems to me to be a writer’s ploy to disguise a novella principally about war. The chapters begin with MacIver having to deal with his current physical state. This usually entails about a page or two of narrative and then it is back to the war story. As this was Mr. Pouncey’s debut novel I felt as if he did not want to be judged on the war story, so nested it within a novel about a widower’s remembrances and end of life experience. The war story about a fragging is fine as is MacIver’s remembrance of his son who died in Vietnam. To me, the rest is a hurried distraction.
Unlike “Nora Webster” the writer “tells you” and not “shows you”. This is dictated by the novel being a remembrance, but for me it constrained emotional attachment to MacIver.
Mr. Pouncey is a classicist, so there are references and parallels to Greek mythology sprinkled throughout the book. The book has strong testimonials from good writers, which is what attracted me to the novel: Frank McCourt; Ward Just; Louis Begley; Norman Mailer and Shirley Hazzard.
It is a short book if you care to have a go. I mostly felt underwhelmed, particularly because the title of the book was not its center.