Increasingly preoccupied by fears of dementia, an elderly man in a nursing home finds a new purpose and love in this novel.
Still in his 60s, Robert Glickman, a retired neurologist, resides at the Youth Fountain Senior Living Facility, called the Fountain of Youth by some. The decision was made for him, he says, but he’s also haunted by fears of Lewy body dementia, a “devastating and ugly” disease that runs in his family. As Glickman says repeatedly, “I have other plans when the time comes,” designs that have something to do with the locked box he stores in his closet and the key he wears around his neck. In the meantime, he keeps himself sharp by testing his brain every Sunday with 20 questions from his grandson’s sixth-grade quiz book (“Question 1: Earth is located in which galaxy?”), fretting when he gets any wrong and hiding the volume weekly to test whether he can find it again. Glickman gets along fairly well with the staff (especially the siblings Rufus, Ruth, and Hester, who share a tragic history that has left Hester with progressive mutism) and the other residents, all but two of whom are Jewish. One, O’Reilly, pretends to be Jewish by cursing in Yiddish and telling the ladies he’s circumcised. A persistent rumor has it that the other gentile, Boyle, is a Nazi in hiding; he has a greasy-looking teenage grandson, Stanley, who gets caught between the FBI and a drug cartel. Without intending to, Glickman finds himself becoming deeply involved with the life of the Fountain, even experiencing romance again with Christina Abernathy, a new resident and a retired psychotherapist who might be able to help Hester. Not paradoxically for Glickman, these relationships and the work he does on their behalf give him the strength to continue fighting for the right to die with dignity.
Although this novel wears its heart on its sleeve, being dedicated to all those working for Glickman’s cause, Shear (The Trials of Adrian Wheeler, 2014) never allows the book to become didactic. Instead, his remarkable characters demonstrate the fullness with which life can be lived when you’re willing to get involved, as Glickman does not only with Fountain residents, but also with a vulnerable young woman named Lucy Diamond he runs across. (Early on, he notices that Lucy’s “sales ticket from Goodwill still dangled from her tattered jacket.”) In an entertaining episode, Glickman gets roped into reading The Great Gatsby aloud on Lower Level 2, the nursing floor, which he’s always avoided out of fear and disgust (the smells, the dying). Fitzgerald’s novel sparks a lot of interesting discussions among residents Glickman had tagged as moribund. At the end, most listeners clap, but not the sentimental ones, “disappointed that Gatsby could not hold onto the rays of green emanating across the sound.” Rays of green, like the youth they can’t hold onto at the Fountain? While never in denial about hard truths, and always claiming the right to make end-of-life decisions for oneself, this engrossing book also demonstrates the reality of hope.
A humanistic project that delivers a good read, with plot twists and memorable characters.