three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
17-July-Aug-2005
user_rating: 
0

A-RulesOldMenWaitingRobert MacIver is an 80-year-old Scotsman holed up in a Cape Cod vacation home awaiting his demise. Luckily for the reader, it’s been an interesting eight decades filled with rugby championships, world wars, and a fruitful academic career. Afraid of limping towards death, MacIver dreams up ten rules to keep him from stagnation. He writes everyday, burns the books of his academic peers to keep his fire going, and works on a novel based on the lives of World War I veterans. Every night he listens to Mahler, haunted by memories of his dead wife and his own memories of World War II. If the rules can’t keep him from his end, they at least provide a means of understanding how he reached it.
Random House. 210 pages. $21.95. ISBN: 1400063701

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"This easy marriage of sorrow and good sense is part of what makes the old Scot such a fine companion; so, too, does it define the beauty of the tough-minded novel that delivers him." Gail Caldwell

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"The rules are basic, ‘a simple skeleton of the well-ordered life for a feeble old man.’ But they are a blueprint for days that will be played out with strength and meaning, an antidote to MacIver’s despair." Robin Vidimos

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"In 210 pages, the book says a lot more than scores of novels twice as long. … Pouncey reminds me of Norman Maclean (A River Runs Through It) and Wallace Stegner (Crossing to Safety), two other scholars who knew how to tell powerful stories that stick with you long after the last page." Bob Minzesheimer

Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The story within the story becomes a meditation on masculine nature, and it plays out in syncopation with the memories of MacIver’s own childhood, courtship, and service in the Second World War." Karen R. Long

Financial Times 3 of 5 Stars
"The book’s uninspiring title betrays the poetic nuances that illuminate the text. The simplicity of Pouncey’s prose offers a lyrical resonance to MacIver’s reveries. The novel is laced with an affecting realism, from the intimate moments of his marriage to his anguish at losing his child to the Vietnam
War …"

Washington Post 2.5 of 5 Stars
"[The] pitfalls of this novel’s plan are obvious: In attempting to dramatize the rather undramatic act of writing, there are simply too many ways to go wrong. Not enough opportunity to throw the unexpected at the protagonist; too much opportunity for sermonizing." Christopher Tilghman

Critical Summary

We’d like to think a better-late-than-never literary debut hasn’t garnered this much attention since Ants on the Melon, Virginia Hamilton Adair’s first collection of poetry published at age 87. Pouncey, a classics professor at Columbia University and the retired President of Amherst College, began work on Rules in 1981; at a slim 210 pages, it’s obvious he chose his words carefully. Reviewers generously praise Pouncey’s controlled prose and ripened wisdom. Those who enjoy the book embrace it as a serious-minded antidote to the treacly works of Mitch Albom. The few detractors note that Pouncey falls into traps of many first time novelists: no matter how well it’s written, it’s still a story about a man wandering around an empty house with only memories to incite any drama.