An Ex­ile’s Per­fect Let­ter

The Aurora (Labrador City) - - Editorial - Harold Wal­ters

I must be­gin to­wards the end.

The epi­graph of Larry Mathews’ novel “An Ex­ile’s Per­fect Let­ter” (Break­wa­ter Books) is a scrap of a Leonard Co­hen poem.

Leonard Co­hen. Hold the thought. Pro­tag­o­nist Hugh Nor­man, a 62-yearold English pro­fes­sor liv­ing in St. John’s, men­tions that he has re­cently vis­ited a urol­o­gist to have his prostate ex­am­ined.

“It’s very large. Right at the end of the Bell curve. Sooner or later we’ll have to do a TURP,” said Hugh’s urol­o­gist.

Hugh learns that the pro­ce­dure — TURP — is a transurethral re­sec­tion of the prostate. This in­va­sive — frig­gin’ painful, no doubt — route to the prostate sounds “like me­dieval tor­ture. Or maybe some­thing the CIA would come up with.”

Just imag­ine any man, per­haps near the end of his prime, old enough to be suf­fer­ing from Hugh’s con­di­tion, (be­nign pro­static hyper­pla­sia — makes you squirm, eh b’ys?) ly­ing prone prepped for a TURP …

… with Leonard Co­hen lyrics dron­ing in his nog­gin — lyrics re­mind­ing him that his friends have gone, that what re­mains of his hair is grey, and worst of all, he aches in the parts of his body where he used to play.

An aside. May you never need a TURP. Okay. Back to the be­gin­ning.

Hugh Nor­man, a few years away from re­tire­ment, is spin­ning his wheels, not car­ing doo­dly-squat about de­part­men­tal in-fight­ing and squab­bles.

He’s in­dif­fer­ent to a col­league’s in­ter­est in writ­ing a trea­tise … dis­ser­ta­tion … what­ever it’s called, about the im­por­tance of post­scripts, “hith­erto dis­re­garded by con­ven­tional schol­ar­ship, (yet) can say much about civ­i­liza­tion.”

For frig sake, af­ter re­tire­ment Hugh will be liv­ing in the post­script of his own life.

Hugh learns that an old friend has died up on the Main­land and that got him think­ing about … well, about how brief post­scripts can be, I s’pose. He is sur­prised when he re­al­izes he’s “spilled the beans about Cliff’s death and the un­set­tling ef­fect it’s had on (him).”

Here’s a cheery, pick-you-up-on-afoggy-day thought from Hugh: “I’m get­ting ready to die. Not from any im­me­di­ate cause but just in gen­eral be­gin­ning to lose in­ter­est in the world, to dis­tance my­self from the de­tails of life as I’ve known it.”

Feel­ing so, where does Hugh go for a hol­i­day week­end?

St. Pierre.

Noth­ing wrong with that, eh b’ys? St. Pierre is a lovely place to visit. Many of us have gone there.

Fifty years ago, as part of a group, I sailed there dosed to the eye­balls with Gravol and pray­ing for our trip’s post­script.

What’s the pièce de ré­sis­tance when one vis­its the French is­land?

The ceme­tery.

Hugh and his part­ner Mau­reen don’t miss this high­light with its “Euro­peanstyle, ev­ery­thing above ground, row upon row of whited sepul­chres.”

Maybe a ceme­tery — any ceme­tery — isn’t the best at­trac­tion for a man “get­ting mildly ob­sessed with (his) own death.”

Shortly af­ter his re­turn from St. Pierre, Hugh leaves the Flu­var­ium’s park­ing lot and takes a con­sti­tu­tional dodge around Long Pond. Near the end of his walk he steps off the beaten path and dis­cov­ers a corpse sprawled face-down in the gowiddy.

En­ter Gene Brazil, Con­stab­u­lary cop, who ques­tions Hugh re­gard­ing his dis­cov­ery of the dead body. Brazil’s man­ner of in­ter­ro­ga­tion in­tim­i­dates Hugh, de­spite his in­no­cence. Even Brazil’s pen­chant for us­ing the col­lo­quial Wah? “to es­tab­lish ver­bal dom­i­nance” alarms Hugh.

Hugh’s dis­con­cer­tion isn’t helped when his ex-son-in-law says, “It’s a bit wor­ry­ing, isn’t it, given the Con­stab­u­lary’s well-de­served rep­u­ta­tion for in­ep­ti­tude in mur­der in­ves­ti­ga­tions.”

Hugh is even­tu­ally re­lieved when Brazil in­di­cates that he does not sus­pect Hugh of mur­der but that he wants him to tes­tify in court. Hugh re­laxes and thinks — Phew! —, “It wasn’t me af­ter all.”

An Ex­ile’s Per­fect Let­ter has a gem­dandy open­ing sen­tence. It makes a state­ment few of us are likely to ut­ter: “I think I may be in love with my den­tist.”

Hugh has a new den­tist be­cause his pre­vi­ous den­tist has com­mit­ted sui­cide. Dr. Kirsch is a young wo­man who in­forms Hugh that a crack in one of his teeth prob­a­bly hap­pened eons ago.

Eons ago! Hard phrase for a man con­tem­plat­ing the post­script of his life, eh b’ys? Es­pe­cially when de­liv­ered by some­one who is likely younger than Hugh’s first adult tooth.

Here’s a chuckle. Back home from the den­tist, Hugh — tongue in tooth, p’raps — says to Mau­reen, “By the way, my new den­tist loves my gums. They make her happy.”

I like this novel. It made me happy. As an an­ti­quated English teacher from a pre­vi­ous life, I can re­late to Hugh. If not with his feel­ings to­wards his den­tist, cer­tainly with his dread of a pos­si­ble TURP.

Thank you for read­ing.

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