Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Half the Kingdom, by Lore Segal

Half the Kingdom revolves around a large Manhattan hospital where all the "over-62s" who come into the emergency room are developing dementia, in what doctors are calling "copycat Alzheimer's." Hospital personnel partner with the former head of a think tank, Joe Bernstine, and his staff (his motley crew of employees is helping him compile a compendium of end-of-the-world scenarios) to investigate what is happening. The older members of his staff pose as patients, while the younger ones take on the role of social workers. They encounter a number of unique older patients, all of whom could be regarded as mentally impaired--but who might just be focused on aspects of life (or death) that younger people cannot perceive. As the narration jumps from character to character, it becomes more and more difficult to tell who has dementia and who does not, but the hospital environment clearly contributes to mental and physical dislocation of the elderly and their families.

Half the Kingdom does not have a typical plot with a neat resolution. What it does have is humor and memorable characters (I will not soon forget Lucy, whose son convinces her she needs a cell phone, which she then uses to call everyone in her address book to read them one of her short short stories--and she is not a patient).  For someone who is an "over-62," it is also a discomfiting look at how our generation (and our parents') may fare in the medical establishment. I can certainly see that this book would not be everyone's cup of tea, but I enjoyed it.

Favorite passages:
She belonged to the class of children whose tone of voice is never less than nasty when speaking to parents who continue to respond with incorruptible courtesy.

"Interesting," Lucy said to Bethy who stood beside her, "the long beat between something happening and the world taking any notice."

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