AMOS by Stanley Gordon West


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Like Seymour Shubin's The Captain (1982), this awkward first novel reduces the very real problem of care for the elderly to shrill, lurid melodrama--as a noble senior citizen does battle (with eventual martyrdom) against a devil-woman Head Nurse who makes Nurse Ratchet look like Florence Nightingale. Amos Lasher, 78, is sent to the county nursing-home after being injured in the car-crash that killed his wife (a source of guilt). He soon discovers that the home is a hell-on-earth, with the old folks not only neglected but frequently beaten and tortured; furthermore, Head Nurse Daisy Dawes is stealing the residents' money, forcing them to sign over their life insurance, and then killing them off. And Amos, who actually sees Daisy murder his roommate, vows to bring down ""this house of death""--but at first to little avail: Daisy has the local sheriff beguiled (in a gratuitous graphic-sex scene, Amos peeping Toms during ""their game of lust""); other attempts to communicate with the outside world are stymied, resulting only in savage Daisy attacks on Amos and his new love Fern. So finally Amos, declining an opportunity to live with his nice grandson, determines to become a Kamikaze in the war against Daisy: he carries out a scheme to commit suicide and frame Daisy for murder--a supposedly courageous act which ultimately seems, however, merely peculiar (especially since Amos passes up the chance to get help against Daisy from the grandson). Despite some grim, sadly convincing nursing-home details, plus long reminiscences by several of the residents, West's horror-movie-melodrama approach undermines any social seriousness here. Nor does the crude suspense even work on its own terms--since the pace is repeatedly bogged down in repetitious, sentimental, inept verbiage. (""He was a Kamikaze, the divine wind that cast the enemy ships away from the shores of homeland Japan, strapped now in the cockpit of suicide, the one vehicle that would impale her on the rocks."") See Hilma Wolitzer's At the Palomar Arms, p. 404, for a fully credible nursing-home portrait; see Jane Somers' Diary ora Good Neighbour, p. 207, for a powerful close-up of old age; this blend of cartoon-exposÉ and phony uplift is only for those attracted by the spectacle of old people being brutally, garishly abused.

Pub Date: July 5th, 1983
Publisher: Rawson/Scribners