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THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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I've decided to stop accepting review copies. The downside of getting buried in free books is that reading increasingly becomes an obligatory act. After some seven years of blogging books, it's time for me to return to the simple pleasure of reading only the books I want to read, when I want to read them.



  
From a random review:

  

« Alexander, Tasha: And Only to Deceive | Main | Kersten, Jason: Journal of the Dead »

Pouncey, Peter: Rules for Old Men Waiting

  

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Random House © 2005, 210 pages [amazon]
5 stars

[This review appeared originally in The Picolata Review.]

After the death of his wife Margaret in the spring of 1987, Robert MacIver himself fell into disrepair--failing to eat properly or to keep in contact with his former colleagues, not seeing to the work that needed doing on his isolated house on the Cape, more decrepit and older, even, than he. Given his failing health, some malady, never named, from which he suffers, MacIver's further decline is inevitable. He is resigned to it, nearly welcomes it, but after an accident jolts him from his despair he determines, as he puts it, to retrench. He establishes a set of ten rules for himself, "a simple skeleton of the well-ordered life for a feeble old man," by means of which he intends to live with some dignity until the end, and to approach death on something like his own terms. The rules include practical instructions for keeping himself fed and clothed and clean as well as directives for keeping the house heated. Having failed to lay in firewood during his months of lethargy, this last is a serious issue. MacIver decides that he will burn picture frames and furniture--though not "articles of fine craftsmanship"--as well as "books of rival scholars and other trash, before good books and my own." Arguably the most important of MacIver's ten rules, however, is that in which he imposes on himself some manner of work. As a retired professor of history, specializing in the First World War, it is not surprising that MacIver elects as his final project in life to tell a story set in the trenches of that conflict. The story he writes, of men consumed by rage over private grievances, is as nuanced and well-written and compelling as MacIver's own. It spills into the book in fragments as MacIver writes it, the stories of his life and his imagination moving in lock-step toward their inexorable, parallel ends.

He establishes a set of ten rules for himself, "a simple skeleton of the well-ordered life for a feeble old man," by means of which he intends to live with some dignity until the end, and to approach death on something like his own terms.Rules for Old Men Waiting does not merely record the final months of a once fearsome man. Readers are shown MacIver also in earlier periods of his life as the old Scot, literally feverish in the evenings after long hours at the typewriter, allows himself to remember them: MacIver as angry adolescent, fatherless after World War I, his venom given purpose on the rugby field; Lieutenant Commander MacIver on board the HMS Constant in September 1944; MacIver as historian and teacher and as husband to Margaret, the near perfect woman who "tamed the wild boar on Parnassus"; MacIver as father. To readers it feels as if Pouncey's character were spat whole into vastly different circumstance from one moment to the next, his character remaining much the same, though of course this is the effect of looking at a long life in disconnected segments.

Pouncey's novel, his first, is a beautifully written piece of prose, punctuated by innumerable well-wrought sentences that slow the reader: "The house and the old man were well matched," the book begins, "both large framed and falling fast. The house had a better excuse, MacIver thought; he was eighty, but the house was older than the Republic, had been a century old when Thoreau walked the Cape, though he couldn't have seen it tucked away in the non-descript maze of scrub oak." The author clearly knows his way around the English language, and his classical training--Pouncey is a retired classicist--is likewise apparent in his vocabulary and Homeric theme and references. Rules for Old Men Waiting is a thought-provoking read, gentle, and sad in the way a life lived tolerably well but ended, or due to end, is sad. The dialogue in the book, of which there is not much, does not always ring true. And the final chapter--not the epilogue--goes on a few pages longer than necessary as MacIver remembers a further episode from his rugby-playing days which seems, however, out of step with what has preceded.

I'm not precisely sure yet what we are to make of the relationship between Pouncey's powerful story-within-a-story and the narrative that frames it, whether the shorter work is intended to bring out the themes of the larger work, for example, the menis motivating MacIver's characters to mirror his own, but it bears thinking on. And Pouncey's slender volume, if it hasn't already been made abundantly clear, definitely merits your time.

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About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  






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Book-blog.com by Debra Hamel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 License.