cover image Bedside Matters

Bedside Matters

Richard Alther. Rare Bird, $26 (280p) ISBN 978-1-64428-163-5

With an unsentimental eye, Alther (Roxie & Fred) richly examines a life nearly at its end. Walter is bedridden and dying, and his caretaker, Irma, douses any tendency to sentimentalize: “You’re just dying, Walter... we all do.” As an effort to rise above self-pity, Walter has been reading the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi, and this infuses both his reminiscences and descriptions of his daily challenges with some poetic flourish. His body progressively betrays him as his mind intensifies and all the stuff of his life gets “pulsed into puree.” While his children Paula and Gavin are faithful attendants, Walter is leery of overburdening them with his maladies or the deeper revelations triggered by forced seclusion. Other visitors run from the sublime (a fascinating assortment of birds on the windowsill) to the ridiculous (an awkward school choir intending to lift his spirits), and Alther walks a fine line in depicting benchmarks in Walter’s life without making them too generic: memories of a teen sock hop and his ex-wife Polly alternate with visits from doctors, nurses, and his financial advisor. Along the way, his need for closure is made palpably intense. With honesty and sensitivity, Alther makes this chronicle of a man’s choices examined inviting and restorative. (Mar.)