English scriptwriter and story-maker Bennett (The Clothes They Stood Up In, 2001; The Madness of George III) offers three stories about the foibles of being human.
At novella length (almost 100 pages), “The Laying On of Hands” opens with the unlikely prospect for humor of a memorial service in a London church. It’s being held for the handsome Clive Dunlop, dead at 34, by profession a masseur to the rich and famous (and the not so rich and famous). Cause of death? All suppose it to have been AIDS, a fact that for most of those gathered to mourn and remember Clive is a cause for secret and acute anxiety, since the affable Clive’s “professional” net was cast very, very wide. Imagine the relief of all assembled when they discover—during reminiscences about Clive that are invited by the liberal-minded clergyman who’s officiating—that the death wasn’t from that at all, but from an insect bite. People’s relief at such good news can be imagined—and Bennett imagines it with drollery and panache. “Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet” is a slighter—and shorter—affair, about the unconventional but salutary relationship that emerges between a woman and her foot doctor. “Father! Father! Burning Bright,” however, brings Bennett to top form again. While his own father was a plumber and man of the earth, Midgely went to university and became a teacher—and always suffered great unease and resentment, feeling he could never live up to whatever son’s duty was expected of him (a syndrome that hasn’t helped his marriage, by the way). Now that Father has had a sudden stroke and is catatonic, though, the least Midgely can do, what he should do, is be there with his father through the end. So he waits dutifully, for days, at the hospital—only once again, hilariously, to be outfoxed by his fate.
Deft, light, observant, and very funny indeed.