Half the King­dom: A Novel

Lore Segal
  • Review
By – December 11, 2013

As much as we hold onto such over-used clichés as 70 is the new 50,” Lore Segal’s nov­el gives us all some­thing to think, and/​or wor­ry about! The very first scene takes place in a busy emer­gency room. A physi­cian com­ments to the man she is exam­in­ing, upon over­hear­ing a com­mo­tion in the next bed, That’s our third patient gone berserk in one day.” She then tells him about her chief, Our Dr. Stim­son is start­ing a log of all the six­ty-two –plus­es who go around the bend.” 

The patient, Joe Bern­stein, him­self in the ter­mi­nal stages of dis­ease, is not going around the bend,” is not sit­ting and wait­ing for the end. Instead, he begins work on a rig­or­ous project, an ency­clo­pe­dia, The Com­pendi­um of End-of-World Sce­nar­ios. He invites a group of quirky but sin­cere peo­ple to be his research assis­tants. They gath­er in a rent­ed office right in the heart of Man­hat­tan to plan their study. They rep­re­sent the friends and fam­i­ly we all rec­og­nize as play­ers in the aging jour­ney. We meet Joe, his wife, their cranky daugh­ter, a cou­ple of young men, and the feisty writer mom of one of them. The sub­jects of their inves­ti­ga­tion are a cross-sec­tion of aging peo­ple, in and out of the same ER, with famil­iar back sto­ries includ­ing demen­tia, fam­i­ly aban­don­ment, Holo­caust life trau­ma, hal­lu­ci­na­tions, and deep despair. They strug­gle with wor­ry, annoy­ance, anger, and fear. With them we con­sid­er all pos­si­ble caus­es of the declin­ing days, includ­ing Joe’s own con­vic­tion in a con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry. He says of the ter­ror­ists, They have to dri­ve us insane, while keep­ing us indef­i­nite­ly alive. We are deal­ing with an ene­my of enor­mous sophis­ti­ca­tion, inge­nu­ity, and patience.”

This engag­ing sto­ry is played out against the very time­ly back­drop of an emer­gency room in our cur­rent health care pan­de­mo­ni­um. With wry humor, bit­ing sar­casm, and ter­rif­ic char­ac­ter inter­play, Lore Segal calls the ques­tion: did these folks all come in around the bend” or go there after being in the emer­gency room? Who­ev­er we are — the aging par­ent, the care-giv­ing child, a sym­pa­thet­ic friend — we leave, after a rol­lick­ing read, with more respect for the wor­ri­some aging process. 


Read Beth Kissilef­f’s inter­view with Lore Segal here.

Pen­ny Metsch, MLS, for­mer­ly a school librar­i­an on Long Island and in New York City, now focus­es on ear­ly lit­er­a­cy pro­grams in Hobo­ken, NJ.

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