Forget Scrooge: here’s a man whose brush with mortality becomes the vehicle for a short, sweet tour through his life’s dramas and his own ordinariness—only for him to find he was a sweet guy all along.
Are you a writer needing an excuse to write lots of funny, highbrow penis jokes? How about prostate cancer? Creative Writing Professor Stanley Morris has two problems: (1) he has two first names and not even his colleagues seem able to remember that Morris isn’t what they should be calling him, and (2) a new doctor has felt something while sticking his finger up you know where. It’s cancer, which Stanley decides to have removed, and so the journey begins: first, the haze of anesthesia and nostalgia allows for a trip back in time to visit Stanley’s two brothers, one of them a suicide; next, the present is revealed as Stanley recovers, returns to work, and discovers his worth at the small university that is about to be turned upside down by another death that is, surprisingly, not Stanley’s; and, finally, the future becomes known through e-mail and a new female dean. At the close, Stanley doesn’t confront his grave but instead gains a new comfort with his own insignificance, this via a beehive in his house that was there before he bought it and will be there long after he has gone. The story pleases in its seeming effortlessness, the simple names of the various academics are worthwhile jokes, and Stanley’s inner self is worthy of one limned by a Bellow or a nicer Phillip Roth.
Terry (My Father’s Hands, 1992, etc.) scores gently with a sweet parable that almost sneaks by as simple realism.