Two men reflect on what went right and wrong during their long lives in this novel.
Widower Jerry, 85, has trouble meeting male friends in Macrobia, his California retirement community. It might have something to do with Macrobia’s population being 75 percent female. He meets Walter, 86, in the community’s philatelist club. Walter has a unique interest: He only collects stamps from nations that no longer exist. (Jerry opts for stamps from small countries in Europe and Asia.) The two begin a friendship based largely around conversation. Topics include the development of retirement communities, careers, hometowns, travel, and, inevitably, family. “They don’t write,” gripes Walter about his six kids, “don’t post mail; instead, once in a while, one of them tweets. Email is old fashioned, one of them told me.” Jerry’s own children include an estranged daughter that he abandoned to dodge the Korean War draft by fleeing to Canada; they haven’t seen each other in 60 years. Underlying every subject, sometimes explicitly and sometimes not, is the greater one: They are old men, at the end of their lives, awaiting a final epiphany. What did they do right? What did they do wrong? What, in the end, really matters? In this “Old Adult” novel, Foyt (Marcel Proust in Taos, 2013, etc.) writes from the perspective of Jerry, whose believable voice is equal parts wistfulness, remorse, and detachment: “I admitted to myself that I had always wanted to underline my thoughts. I mean, I had always admired Matilda and her skills in writing her columns. I did think my thoughts were valid. But for me to share them with strangers?” There isn’t much here in the way of plot. Indeed, the climactic moment is something of a deus ex machina, more befuddling than cathartic. Even so, the author has constructed an elegant—and at times compelling—Socratic dialogue on growing very old. These two men of the Silent Generation might not confront any of the really intriguing issues—from their white maleness to the sex lives of octogenarians—but they do hit the classics: parenthood, accomplishments, and the point of it all.
A philosophical tale about two men in old age.