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Rules for Old Men Waitingby Peter Pouncey
Synopses & Reviews
A brief, lyrical novel with a powerful emotional charge, Rules for Old Men Waiting is about three wars of the twentieth century and an ever-deepening marriage. In a house on the Cape "older than the Republic," Robert MacIver, a historian who long ago played rugby for Scotland, creates a list of rules by which to live out his last days. The most important rule, to "tell a story to its end," spurs the old Scot on to invent a strange and gripping tale of men in the trenches of the First World War.
Drawn from a depth of knowledge and imagination, MacIver conjures the implacable, clear-sighted artist Private Callum; the private's nemesis, Sergeant Braddis, with his pincer-like nails; Lieutenant Simon Dodds, who takes on Braddis; and Private Charlie Alston, who is ensnared in this story of inhumanity and betrayal but brings it to a close.
This invented tale of the Great War prompts MacIver's own memories of his role in World War II and of Vietnam, where his son, David, served. Both the stories and the memories alike are lit by the vivid presence of Margaret, his wife. As Hearts and Minds director Peter Davis writes, "Pouncey has wrought an almost inconceivable amount of beauty from pain, loss, and war, and I think he has been able to do this because every page is imbued with the love story at the heart of his astonishing novel."
"Begun in 1981, this slender, unpretentious, lyrical and deeply moving novel by the president emeritus of Amherst College was more than two decades in the making. The year is 1987, and octogenarian Robert MacIver is alone, in failing health and debilitated with grief over his wife's recent death, hiding out in the dead of winter in a remote, unheated Cape Cod house 'older than the Republic.' Shocked into confronting the seriousness of his plight when the timbers of the front porch collapse under his weight, he retreats back inside the house and realizes that he wants to live out his remaining days — however few in number — with dignity. Thus resolved, he formulates his Ten Commandments for Old Men Waiting, the seventh of which is 'Work every morning.' And so he decides to write a short story about an infantry company in 'No Man's Land' in WWI, which will draw on the interviews he conducted with victims of poison gas that he used for his first book, the well-received oral history Voices Through the Smoke. Pouncey's novel thus becomes a story within a novel; and MacIver's story is elegantly juxtaposed with his memories from his own long life. Pouncey's first book is proof that sometimes greatness comes slowly and in small packages. Agent, Aaron M. Priest Literary Agency." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A strong debut....Despite minor flaws...this has a power and piquant unexpectedness that raise it far above the general run of first novels." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"Mr. Pouncey writes with enough style and elegance to bring envy into the heart of many a good novelist." Norman Mailer
"A deeply sensual, moving, thrilling novel that calls for a second and third reading — it is that rich." Frank McCourt
"This is a wonderful novel of a man's experience, and it touches every chord: a wholeness to which each incident crucially contributes so that wars and loves and losses, and mortality itself, are lived by the reader. The book is charged with the excitement of intelligent existence — and distinguished, above all, by its great humanity." Shirley Hazzard
"A stunning piece of work, beautifully composed and finished. It's very much its own thing, but in its reach, intelligence, and power it recalls Lampedusa's The Leopard and Marai's Embers, along with something of Norman MacLean. Old Men belongs on that same shelf." Ward Just
"A tender, beautifully expressed rumination on love and loss by a highly intelligent and marvelously brave old man." Louis Begley
Robert MacIver, a historian who long ago played rugby for Scotland, creates a list of rules by which to live out his last days. The most important rule — to "tell a story to its end" — spurs the old Scot to invent a strange and gripping tale of men in the trenches of the First World War.
Robert MacIver is a tough old highland Scot, a retired professor of history, who played rugby for Scotland, and commanded a destroyer in the Royal Navy in World War II. As Rules for Old Men Waiting opens, MacIver, holed up in a house on Cape Cod, creates a list of rules by which to live out his last days, the most important being to "tell a story to its end." And so, playing to his expertise in the Great War, a strange and gripping tale of men in the trenches is born. His characters' actions in turn compel him to confront his memory with passages of his own life. Before the end of his story, MacIver has made his last reckoning with his own innate violence, the great gift of his marriage to Margaret, and his greatest grief, the loss of his son.
About the Author
Peter Pouncey was born in Tsingtao, China, of English parents. At the end of World War II, after several dislocations and separations, the family reassembled in England, and Pouncey was educated there in boarding schools and at Oxford. A classicist, former dean of Columbia College, and president emeritus of Amherst College, Peter Pouncey lives in New York City and northern Connecticut with his wife. This is his first novel.
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