Losing Julia

Jonathan Hull, Author Delacorte Press $24.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-385-33375-7
In a nursing home in California, WWI vet Patrick Delaney is fighting new battles: against old age (he's 81), stomach cancer and the knowledge of his encroaching death. This earnest, elegant first novel takes the form of Patrick's diary, in which he details the humbling infirmities of an aging body and looks back at the defining moments of his life--the war itself, when he lost his best friend, Daniel, and the brief but intense love affair he had 10 years later with Daniel's grieving lover, Julia. The diary layers these two stories with scenes from the nursing home in short alternating sections. Like the dots in a pointillist painting, they merge into the larger work, a story of love and death. ""Our lives--all our lives--are a struggle between love and loss,"" Julia tells Patrick in Paris, where their affair unfolds over one week in 1928. Hull is ultimately better at depicting war than--Patrick's memories of Julia are tinged with romantic cliche: her eyes are like ""precious stone"" and her smile suggests a ""combination of strength and vulnerability."" But his descriptions of the war are frightening and physical, with dirt dislodged by artillery shells filling Patrick's mouth and flares illuminating severed body parts in the trenches. Hull's research is assiduous; he seamlessly incorporates period detail, referencing the toiletries the enlistees received in their trench kits and how the weather affected the roads at the Battle of Verdun. Equally honest and effective are the unsparing descriptions of the loneliness, physical decrepitude and indignities of old age. Patrick is a winning narrator, charming and honest and direct, and the reader will root for him right through the book's Hollywood ending, where he makes one last stand against death, his final enemy. Major ad/promo; author tour. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 01/31/2000
Release date: 02/01/2000
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