Reviewed by Chris Loza
HOW NOT TO DIE ALONE
By Richard Roper
336 pages. G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
I felt a childlike giddiness when I received an advanced copy of this book for review. This is right up my current reading list of “up lit” fiction—empathic, hopeful, funny, touching, and poignant stories even in the midst of unspeakable darkness and tragedy. And this book belongs to many lists of the most anticipated books this May. It all started for me when I grew tired of the dark and grim literature with unreliable narrators of the Gone Girl sorts. I picked up Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove and the rest, as they say, is uplifting literature history.
The surge of Up Lit speaks to the confusing and dark times we live in. Put a pin on any country in the map of the world and there are wars being fought. Discord and divisiveness abound, disinformation is a click away, and discontent simmers under the surface. In the face of such hopelessness, we seek stories that triumph against the dark; stories that show the endurance and persistence of the human spirit.
Andrew is a 42-year old loner working in UKs Death Administration Council. His job is to go through the recently deceased house to find a next of kin and if there’s none (which is what happens more often than not), he arranges for the funeral service. On his interview for the job five years prior to the rest of the story’s setting, Andrew, distracted by his imagination, tells his boss, Cameron, that he is married to Diane, who is a lawyer, and they have two kids, Steph and David. In reality, he spends his time alone in his house chatting online with a group of model train aficionados. Every quarter, he gets a call from his sister Sally and they have a perfunctory conversation about their lives.
One day at work, a new employee, Peggy, joins the team and Andrew’s life is never the same again. He finds himself drawn to Peggy, who is in a troubled marriage, and he finds an ally in the office against their other two officemates, Keith and Meredith, who are the most irritating officemates one can imagine.
In between their inspections of houses of recently deceased persons, an easy bond grows over them, but everyone in the office knows Andrew is married. Their boss, Cameron, has this bright idea of a team building where each employee will host dinner at their house every week and Andrew soon finds himself in a hole he cannot get out of.
The book is at once both funny and heartbreaking, depicting the funny situations (and smells) Andrew and Peggy find themselves in when they inspect a house of a recently deceased person and the staggering loneliness of those dead people dying alone without any next of kin. Slowly, the book peels the layers of Andrew’s life giving the readers a glimpse of all the lost possibilities and unfulfilled happiness in his life. It shows how loneliness and isolation is not a product of a single catastrophic event in one’s life, but a series of disappointments and little heartbreaks that pile up until it becomes almost impossible to breathe.
Roper paints his characters in such vivid and complex colors that beautifully show the tragicomic nature of life. Each of the characters has their own burdens to bear. Each has lived long enough in this world to experience both the unbridled joy and inexplicable pain that comes with living. But despite of it all, it shows that the deepest nature of humanity is to prevail. In the face of massive loneliness and inevitable death, we have always carried on with our life with a little spark of hope to keep pushing forward.
I loved what the vicar said at the end of this book: “None of us can be sure at the start of our lives just how they will end, or what our journey there will be like, but if we were to know for sure that our final moments would be in the company of good souls such as yourselves, we would surely be comforted.”
It is such a beautiful thought about humanity. We are all a little lonely, but if we open ourselves to life’s possibilities and reach out to another human soul, the end—and the sum of our lives—may not be so lonely after all.
I delayed finishing this book as much as I can, relishing each page, each laugh-out-loud moment, each wistful and heartbreaking scene, because the book is such a breathtaking testament to the indefatigable human spirit that doesn’t involve a cape or special abilities. I love stories of ordinary people, those you probably see in your daily commute, in the mall, or in the supermarket, who have a past that’s supposed to break them but didn’t. I love stories that show the messiness of life, its tender and funny moments, the heartache and loss that comes with living, and the stubbornness to live through it all. How Not To Die Alone is one such book.
How Not to Die Alone by Richard Roper will soon be available at Fully Booked branches. Email us to request for a copy.
Chris has written on Wattpad, yellowpads, and notepads. A few of his articles are in the dusty archives of Inquirer’s Youngblood and Philippine Star’s My Favorite Book, while one story got lost among the Kindles on Amazon. He works as a Systems Administrator by day and a recluse at night. You can reach him on Twitter and Instagram @cd_loza.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]