“Bedside Matters” by Richard Alther— Coming to Terms with Coming to the End

Alther, Richard. “Bedside Matters”, Rare Bird Books, 2021.

Coming to Terms with Coming to the End

Amos Lassen

Several years ago I read Richard Alther’s “The Scar Letters” and was profoundly moved by it. When I learned that “Bedside Matters, his fifth novel was being published, I became very anxious to read it and was once again deeply moved. It is the story of  an unexpected journey at life’s end for one man. 

Walter had lived a good life and was a master of the business world only to learn that now, in old age and ill, a disease that would cause his body to become useless. He sits at home and watches the world move on but without him.. 

Visitors come to see him with their agendas that are meant to remind him of his life and responsibilities. Polly, his ex-wife Polly, Paula, his all-business daughter, Gavin, his good-looking but irresponsible son.  They fill Walter with emotions he had closed off long ago. Things change when he reads the work of 13th-century Persian poet Rumi’s and his inner life takes on a new shape, even though his body continues waste away. He says a long, reluctant goodbye while holding onto a side to life that he had never explored. As he deals with his pain, his garden grows and new people enter his life giving him feelings of life that he thought he had lost. He begins to have romantic feelings for his physical therapist, Tressie, and awaits her visits.

Paula is obsessed with what will happen after her father’s death. Gavin tries to start over again after another bout in rehab and Walter watches them at the game of life as an observer drifting in and out of his thoughts. For the first time, he seems to experience life as a poet would, even as the inevitable end comes closer. 

Alther examines the promise of life, even at its end with ideas that are important to all of us when we consider what really matters in life.  As Walter prepares to let go of life, we become part of his last days and he leads us to think about what is important and authentic. As he faces his own physical decline and deals with family intrigues, he manages to rise above his state and find meaning in the beauty of philosophy, art and literature. This is so much more than the story of a man facing his last days. As Walter struggles to break from his constraints ad find peace, we begin to understand how it is to face the end of life.”

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