A dutiful son helps his increasingly demented father make his last life transition, into a nursing home, despite their uneasy relationship.
European in feel, Nash’s (The Life and Times of Moses Jacob Ezekiel, 2014) novel unspools nonchronological layers of memory, spreading out from a single day, as David Ansky assists his irascible father, Jacob, who recently assaulted his maid, move from his Florida apartment to a care facility. Jacob—himself the son of Joseph Ansky, “professional Communist, imperious foreign editor for the Daily Worker”—is a retired Russian history professor who taught at Cornell and wrote a book on Trotsky. While, in the here and now, David sorts Jacob’s belongings, sooths his rants, and gentles him along the last lap of a none-too-happy life, filaments of the past unfurl and connect, offering glimpses of David’s childhood; his failed marriage; his choice of career, in part a repudiation of his father’s dry academia and barren politics. There’s a Sebald-ian flavor to this melancholy web of recollections, regrets, vignettes, infidelities, and mood moments, colored with intellectual and historical detail and some archaic vocabulary—“oppugning,” “sesquipedalian,” “impetrates.” And, occasionally, the story switches point of view from David’s resigned practicality to Jacob’s cacophony of sights, smells, and flickering thoughts. Nash’s composed tapestry of a family is delicate and poetic, although it accrues meaning more from the accumulation of episodes than penetration of character. There’s a late squall of melodramatic confrontation—“When I look at you now…all I can do is weep.” “I didn’t want to end up like you”—but the concluding mood is sweetly generous in its acknowledgement of generational love and loss.
Nash treads deftly into archetypal territory.