Picks and Pans Review: Rules for Old Men Waiting

updated 05/16/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/16/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Peter Pouncey

CRITICS CHOICE

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Like the once idyllic house on Cape Cod in which Robert Maclver lives, his life is in decay. A retired scholar and recent widower, he's lonely, angry and sick with a terminal illness he treats only with Mahler, Schubert and his favorite whiskey. As he slips deeper into the abyss, the expatriate Scotsman and onetime rugby hero establishes a set of rules for living to bring "some order and resolve to his abject life" and to force himself to complete the story he still needs to tell. Dignity and honor during a century of war are the more obvious themes in this exquisitely detailed first novel by Pouncey, president emeritus of Amherst College. The story that Maclver struggles to complete is a morally vexing tale about infantrymen in World War I; his telling is made more poignant by his service in World War II and the loss of his son in Vietnam. An evocative writer, Pouncey limns characters with such grace that to read this novel is to understand not just Maclver's loves, joys and losses but our own as well.

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