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The first of the book’s three parts, harrowing and sometimes bitingly funny, centers on a narrator who’s the caretaker, nursemaid, and faithful sidekick to a friend—not a lover, but a beloved—who’s dying. Watching that friend waste away, enduring his hostile outbursts and caustic jokes, indulging his whims: Weir writes powerfully and with nuance about what it’s like to grieve someone into the grave and beyond and what it’s like to have that grief haunted and needled at and undermined, in a way, by how unpleasant and hateful the beloved became as his health deteriorated. The second section, “Long-Term Survivors,” follows this same narrator—his name is John Weir, a stratagem that sometimes seems clever but that can also feel coy—through the next 30 years. Two stories in this section feature his mother. A standout is “Humoresque,” in which the narrator, now in his 50s, has come down to Pennsylvania to check on his octogenarian mom, just out of the hospital after a brain bleed she wasn’t expected to recover from. She’s the kind of person often called indomitable, which (accurately) makes her seem formidable in the way of a battleship or a frosty screen idol; the narrator describes her as “a movie star without a movie to star in.” Their impatient, affectionate banter—she’s another big personality to be helpmeet to, co-star with, the narrator’s preferred (if also resented) role—is lovely and persuasive, and Weir uses it to illuminate what’s going on in the narrator’s love life; he’s here in part, as his perceptive mother intuits, to claim her car so he can drive north to pursue another of his doomed, barely or nonphysical love affairs with another inaccessible man.

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