Half the Kingdom: A Novel
In Lore Segal’s bleak, yet comedic, Half the Kingdom, the elder protagonists run circles around their younger offspring. The novel—told in colorful, taut vignettes—might be mistaken for a political romp. Instead, it is the sometimes poignant and sometimes irreverent tale of the leader of the pack, Joe Bernstine. Joe, who has retired, has hired unemployed progeny to compile The Compendium of End-of-World Scenarios. Joe bills the project as a history of disasters and doomsdays, which he expands upon when he visits the emergency room for a terminal illness. He is convinced that the 62-and-older population, after visiting Manhattan’s Cedars of Lebanon hospital, will leave the hospital with dementia. Think terrorists brewing an epidemic of Alzheimer’s. Joe and his cohorts plan to go undercover in the hospital —his doctor’s husband runs hospital security—to learn the truth.
If you have read any of Lore Segal’s previous work, you will recognize returning characters. If nothing else, her novel does force a reader to face bleak outcomes of the American medical system and, as one intern puts it, the hospital practices for keeping folks alive that “meet Abu Ghraib standards.” Half the Kingdom, indeed.
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