Achingly beautiful stories of growing old, searching for meaning and facing death.
Epstein (In a Cardboard Belt!, 2007, etc.) creates his characters with deft strokes. The story that gives the collection its title is one of the author’s most typical, as well as one of his best. Three years earlier the somewhat Prufrockian Dr. A. Jerome Minkoff had lost his wife to Lou Gehrig’s disease, and at a fundraiser for ALS he meets Larissa Friedman, a rich and glamorous widow in similar circumstances. They fall into an energetic affair, and for the first time since his wife’s death Minkoff finds himself contemplating marriage. Larissa has much to offer, especially a gorgeous home in Los Angeles and megabucks—“All the happiness that money could buy.” But at a deep, intuitive level, Minkoff senses this relationship is not going to work. The good doctor is typical of Epstein’s anti-heroes: elderly, lonely, sensitive and looking to make decisions with a modicum of moral integrity. In “The Philosopher and the Checkout Girl,” for instance, a retired professor of analytical philosophy finds a connection with a checkout girl (albeit one pushing 50) that he never experienced with his former academic colleagues. In a neo-Jamesian epiphany the professor belatedly discovers that “he had never known the pleasure of guileless behavior, of saying precisely what he felt and acting on those feelings. He had lived his life at a second, perhaps a third, remove.”
Epstein writes with intelligence, wit and flair—highly recommended.