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A first experience of death at one remove may be a boon to a young child--as it is here to narrator Erica, who muses on the impending death (and then, actual decease) of an elderly neighbor, called ""Allison's grandfather"" because Erica spent a great deal of time with him when his young granddaughter, Allison, was visiting. And Erica, identifying with Allison, wonders if she knows what's happening and how she'll feel when she hears. But for the reader, this is all at two or three removes: Allison's grandfather's death, filtered through Erica's perceptions, which are mostly retrospective in any case. Almost nothing, that is, actually happens in the time-frame of the book: Erica merely recalls being with Allison and her grandfather, and what she recalls are mostly his tales ""about being a real cowboy"" (""'Yes, sir, little girls, he would say with a far-away smile on his face, 'this old cowboy liked nothing better than to saddle up Nugget. . .'""). So we have layer upon distancing layer, no actual story involving Erica and Allison and the grandfather, and a confrontation with death only at the close--when Erica's mother comes home from the hospital and describes how the old man died, with a smile. ""I like to think,"" says Erica's mother, ""it was because he was somehow riding over the mountains again. . . ."" That dab of sentimental consolation is the least of the book's weaknesses, however.

Pub Date: Sept. 4th, 1981
Publisher: Scribners