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."
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 itthat 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 ...
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 (388 words).
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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