The challenges are only intensified when Deborah enters the home of her latest patient Barclay Reed. The former history professor is facing an incurable illness that will soon end his life. He spends his days alone in his sizable estate on the Pacific Coast, thinking back on his academic career and the disgrace that led to its demise. Ridiculous demands and an abrasive temper have made it impossible for Reed to keep a hospice nurse for more than one day at a time. As the fourth nurse from her company to attend to Reed's needs and with no surviving family to intervene, Deborah is his last hope.
Slowly, a mutual trust and understanding begins to form. Reed is a bitter and jaded old man, but underneath that hardened exterior lies a fiercely intelligent man full of knowledge and wisdom about history and life. As Deborah and Reed grow closer, they begin to share about their lives. Deborah tells him of the problems with her husband, and Reed tells her of the last book he was working on. This book, about a Japanese pilot bomber in WWII, was deemed as fabricated plagiarism by Reed's colleagues and became a scandalous end to his distinguished career. As Reed approaches his final days, he has Deborah read from this book and wills her to come to her own opinion about its validity.
Kiernan's quietly nuanced writing paints a breathtaking portrait of life, death, and human interaction. The novel alternates between the present day story of Deborah and Reed with the story of the Japanese WWII pilot seeking redemption from his actions in the war. This alternating narrative device seems to be quite popular in literary fiction these days, but can sometimes make a novel disjointed and difficult to follow. Fortunately, the two stories of this book weave effortlessly with each other as the story of the past becomes a kind of metaphor for the one that is presently unfolding. Kiernan takes what could easily have been a sappy, sentimental tale and elevates it to a deeply moving experience that will stay with you long after the final page. With this poignant novel, Kiernan eclipses the success of his previous effort and reaches a maturity that cements his place as one of the top authors writing today.
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