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At the beginning of this visionary tale, the unnamed protagonist has just died. By the time the reader is inexorably drawn to the conclusion of A Retrospect in Death, the only uncovered fact about the narrator, who could be any man or every man, is his name. Reviewing his life with his higher self - his connection to the Creator - its joyous triumphs and staggering sorrows, the narrator examines the scope, worthiness, and purpose of all that has happened over the course of his days.
Once again, J. Conrad Guest challenges and conquers another genre; indeed, he has written a compelling, haunting novel that cannot be characterized, but leaves no doubt that the reader is in the capable hands of a superior author.
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I exhaled, fought to draw yet another breath - one more in a lifetime of breaths - heard my own death rattle, and followed the light. Muted voices, although the words meant nothing to me, and the sound of someone sobbing thrummed softly in my ears. A hand on top of mine - warm, soft, delicate ... connecting me. Feminine. A woman's hand. Someone I knew. Who?
The light darkled to a black blacker than the blackest night as the voices and sobbing faded. I heard nothing as I disconnected, not even the ringing in my ears that had become familiar to me in my old age as my blood pressure inched ever upward. I might as well have been deaf.
I had conquered the Great Divide. A general feeling of indifference, which I'd associated with the acedia others had come to associate with me while I lived, washed over me.
In living I had feared death; yet in dying, despite the crushing weight of far too many regrets - which had become a sort of leitmotif in what had become my anything but Wagnerian life - I feared I hadn't lived enough.
So begins A Retrospect in Death, a story about discovery. You think you know yourself? Perhaps you only think you do. Do those closest to us know us better than we know ourselves; or do they, as we often insist, know jack? Consider that only in death can you really know, and understand, who and why you are - or were. And then ask yourself: At that point, is it too late? Does it even matter?
Funny as it sounds, I've had a long fascination with death. Although I've not yet reached sixty years, I relate to Oliver Wendell Holmes's adage: "After sixty years the stern sentence of the burial service seems to have a meaning that one did not notice in former years. There begins to be something personal about it."
Our society fears death, when it is the most natural thing in life. And while the health care industry frets over which disease is the leading cause of death, I've always felt it was birth. Or as John Oxenham wrote: "For death begins with life's first breath; and life begins at touch of death."
Darker than any of my previous novels and also more humorous, A Retrospect in Death portends not only a search for the meaning of life, but also seeks to determine why we are as we are: prewired at conception, or the product of our environment?
I sought, learned, and grew,
desired, dreamt, and hoped.
Although caring, I feared to risk.
aching and grieving and weeping,
I longed, oh, so longed,
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