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BookBrowse Reviews Rules for Old Men Waiting by Peter R. Pouncey

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Rules for Old Men Waiting

by Peter R. Pouncey

Rules for Old Men Waiting by Peter R. Pouncey X
Rules for Old Men Waiting by Peter R. Pouncey
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2005, 224 pages

    Paperback:
    Jun 2006, 224 pages

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This spare, distilled first novel is an immediate classic.

Comment: Robert MacIver, the protagonist of Rules, is a recently widowed and rapidly aging historian in his 80s grieving alone through the winter in an unheated Cape Cod house "older than the Republic" in the late 1980s.  As the house starts to crumble around him he is driven to create a list of rules by which to live out his last days with dignity (he is dying of an unspecified ailment), including eating regular meals, working every morning, burning books by rival scholars to keep warm and to "tell a story to its end".  This last rule spurs the old Scot on to invent a strange and gripping tale of soldiers in the trenches of the First World War. 

This invented tale prompts memories of his own life including his role in World War II and Vietnam, where he and his son both served and his son died, his great love for his wife (whose gentleness served as an anecdote to his somewhat violent nature) and the details of the life they shared through love and loss, war and work.

Thus Peter Pouncey serves us up a story within a story that encompasses three wars and much of the 20th Century and reflects the resilient spirit of his protagonist and in turn, of a generation.

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.

Selected Reviews
'Pouncey's first book is proof that sometimes greatness comes slowly and in small packages.' -- Publishers Weekly, starred review.

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

This review first ran in the August 17, 2006 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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