Summary and book reviews of Rules for Old Men Waiting by Peter Pouncey

Rules for Old Men Waiting

By Peter R. Pouncey

Rules for Old Men Waiting
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2005,
    224 pages.
    Paperback: Jun 2006,
    224 pages.

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Book Summary

A brief, lyrical novel with a powerful emotional charge, Rules for Old Men Waiting is about three wars of the twentieth century and an ever-deepening marriage. In a house on the Cape "older than the Republic," Robert MacIver, a historian who long ago played rugby for Scotland, creates a list of rules by which to live out his last days. The most important rule, to "tell a story to its end," spurs the old Scot on to invent a strange and gripping tale of men in the trenches of the First World War.

Drawn from a depth of knowledge and imagination, MacIver conjures the implacable, clear-sighted artist Private Callum; the private's nemesis Sergeant Braddis, with his pincerlike nails; Lieutenant Simon Dodds, who takes on Braddis; and Private Charlie Alston, who is ensnared in this story of inhumanity and betrayal but brings it to a close.

This invented tale of the Great War prompts MacIver's own memories of his role in World War II and of Vietnam, where his son, David served. Both the stories and the memories alike are lit by the vivid presence of Margaret, his wife. As Hearts and Minds director Peter Davis writes, "Pouncey has wrought an almost inconceivable amount of beauty from pain, loss, and war, and I think he has been able to do this because every page is imbued with the love story at the heart of his astonishing novel."

Chapter 1
Rules to Stop the Rot

The house and the old man were well matched, both large framed and failing fast. The house had a better excuse, MacIver thought; he was eighty, but the house was older than the Republic, had been a century old when Thoreau walked the Cape, though he couldn't have seen it tucked away in the nondescript maze of scrub oak. It had been the willful seclusion of the place that had appealed to them when they first saw it—that and the equally hidden pool, about two minutes away through their woods, which must have decided the builder to choose the site. The oaks grew more substantial as they approached the pond, but the casual visitor would not have registered their rising height as the ground fell away down to the water. But when the path did its last little jink through the thicket of spare mossy trunks and last year's leaves, you stood on the edge of something suddenly spacious. A stretch of almost two hundred yards of ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

On the whole the reviewers praise Rules For Old Men Waiting for its depth and lyricism, but some felt that Pouncey over reached himself at times, pushing his points too hard, and that the story lacked drama (essentially it is the story of an old man in an old house with his memories). If you enjoy spare, elegantly written stories that take time to tell then this might well be one for you.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (388 words).

Media Reviews
Booklist - Joanne Wilkinson

Although mortality is its central theme, this gracefully written novel is never depressing. With its expansive scope--war, work, love, loss--it is instead a beautiful testament to one man's resilient spirit.

Kirkus Reviews

Despite minor flaws this has a power and piquant unexpectedness that raise it far above the general run of first novels.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Pouncey's first book is proof that sometimes greatness comes slowly and in small packages.

Author Blurb Frank McCourt
A deeply sensual, moving, thrilling novel that calls for a second and third reading, it is that rich.

Author Blurb Shirley Hazzard
This is a wonderful novel of a man's experience, and it touches every chord: a wholeness to which each incident crucially contributes so that wars and loves and losses, and mortality itself, are lived by the reader. The book is charged with the excitement of intelligent existence, and distinguished, above all, by its great humanity.

Author Blurb Ward Just
A stunning piece of work, beautifully composed and finished. It's very much its own thing, but in its reach, intelligence, and power it recalls Lampedusa's The Leopard and Marai's Embers, along with something of Norman MacLean. Old Men belongs on that same shelf.

Author Blurb Louis Begley
A tender, beautifully expressed rumination on love and loss by a highly intelligent and marvelously brave old man.

Author Blurb Norman Mailer
Mr. Pouncey writes with enough style and elegance to bring envy into the heart of many a good novelist.

Author Blurb W.S. Merwin
This spare, distilled first novel is an immediate classic, whose multiple facets and perspectives reflect an entire compass of human experience. It is imbued with the recognition of evanescence, and with a startling beauty.

Reader Reviews
San Antonio Reader

Rules for Old Men Waiting
This book is for the discriminating reader who enjoys exquisitely written, softly beautiful prose, and who does not require an action-packed plot to appreciate a book. The subject is not upbeat, and yet the reader has a sense of sober satisfaction at...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Peter Pouncey was born in Tsingtao, China of English parents. At the end of World War II, after several dislocations and separations, the family reassembled in England, where he completed his classical education at boarding school and at Oxford University. In 1964 he was offered a job for one year as a classicist, filling in for a professor on sabbatical leave at Fordham University, and has been in America ever since - first at Fordham and then at Columbia University from 1967-1984 (he was dean of the ...

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