Everything must go in this playful snapshot of an end-of-life giveaway, the sixth novel from an offbeat author (Petroleum Man, 2005, etc.).
Bill Starr is so old almost all his friends and close relatives are dead. The childless widower lives alone in a renovated 18th-century farmhouse somewhere in the United States. Ramona, his undocumented Hispanic housekeeper, is both compassionate guardian and comic relief. Here’s Crawford’s shaky premise: Bill, less concerned about the past than the future, will bestow his possessions on his dimly remembered extended family, who will collect their booty in person, and place their names on an improvised family tree: “Things are seeds. I wish to plant mine into the future.” Their haphazard survival appeals to his free spirit. The novel alternates between visits from these relatives, who are meeting their benefactor for the first time, and Bill’s random thoughts. The tone is light and breezy. His pride and joy is Desdemona, his 1937 Pierce-Arrow, named by his late wife. (Its hood ornament makes for good cover art.) Bill awards it impulsively to a likable young man with whom, improbably, he shares a grandfather; much better him than Bill's greedy stepson. Though the old guy tells us nothing about his career in marketing or his happy marriage, he allows us a few peeks into his past. He sowed his wild oats in Europe with both genders: “Sex for sex’s sake.” Now he ogles, discreetly, the muscular yard boy. Creaky limbs are a constant reminder of mortality: “In the old days it was…London to Paris....Now just recliner to chaise lounge.” Yet Bill’s worldview is benign. He has no epiphanies to offer, for he ends as befuddled as he began, but he’s willing to embrace failure along with success.