Alan Shapiro, Author University of Chicago Press $18.95 (136p) ISBN 978-0-226-75034-7
In his recent memoir, the NBCC finalist The Last Happy Occasion, Shapiro showed how our lives can be transformed by art, specifically poetry. Here, Shapiro shows how our lives are transformed, not by art, but by the lives of those we love. With his sister, Beth, dying of cancer in a hospice in Texas, Shapiro leaves his wife and children in order to spend a month at the hospice with his parents, Beth and her family. Once again, Shapiro's perfect pitch lacks sentimentality but brims with the truest of emotions and observations. ""Devastated as she was by the news [of her imminent death], she was also exhilarated by the attention others gave her."" Shapiro's previous memoir had a keen sense of the absurd, and again the author's sense of humor is an apt counterpoint to the sad death-watch. After a visiting Rabbi discusses death, God and the soul with Beth's, he asks Alan to tell her a joke, since she wants ""to laugh again,"" a request that the author obliges with an ethnic joke set at the Pearly Gates. Other family interactions also share this sense of deep emotion seasoned with weird humor. Shapiro describes the family at Beth's death bed, watching the O.J. Simpson criminal trial, ""but the trial was more than just a refuge from my sister's illness.... We could argue and obsess about the O.J. Simpson trial in part because we couldn't afford emotionally to argue and obsess about my sister."" Beth had told her brother she wanted her eulogy to be ""funny as well as intimate."" This book is an almost perfect tribute. The only off note is Shapiro's afterword, consisting of four poems about Beth; although technically excellent, they add little to an otherwise beautifully balanced work. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/29/1997
Release date: 10/01/1997
Genre: Nonfiction
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