cover image Half the Kingdom

Half the Kingdom

Lore Segal. Melville House (Random, dist.), $23.95 (176p) ISBN 978-1-61219-302-1

The 85-year-old Lore Segal’s latest offering is a slim novel haunted by a specter worse than death: the loss of one’s mind. Joe Bernstine is the retired director of the Concordance Center, a think tank devoted to eschatology. As Joe’s own personal end draws near, he assembles an eclectic team of family and associates for one final project, The Compendium of End-of-World Scenarios, an encyclopedic catalogue of potential doom. Yet, as his team gets drawn into assisting Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in dealing with its recent rash of “copycat Alzheimer’s” (which has mysteriously struck all of the 62-plus patients who entered its ER with debilitating dementia), their own problems manifest. Joe has his family and associates enter the hospital in an attempt to decipher the mystery from within. The novel is structured in short sections, each titled after the character it follows, such as “Ida Farkasz” or “Francis Rhinelander,” and, aside from one mention of 9/11, it seems as if the book was written in the 1970s and preserved in amber. By weaving together the multiple narratives of those suffering from and fighting the epidemic, Segal’s story is both a disjointed and comprehensive tableau of the inevitable cruelty of mortality, or as one character puts it, “the Arbus Factor of old age.” (Oct.)