"A wonderfully wise presentation of a family's life as it yields, inevitably, to death. I can't think of a book more necessary than this one for all of us."
-- Robert Coles.
". . . short, cool, and skeletally bright. . . Taylor is less self-consciously literary than Philip Roth in 'Patrimony' and has a less dramatic filial tale to disclose than Tobias Wolff in 'This Boy's Life.' But in its quiet, economical way 'A Necessary End' will stand comparison with either of them. . . the story of this book . . . may seem to posterity one of the key stories of our time."
-- The Washington Post
". . . a lovely book, tenderly written, a must-read for all whose parents have started -- or even finished -- their walk down the long, slow road toward death."
-- The Boston Globe
From A Necessary End, 1989:
A week after [my wife and I] had arrived back in New York, the nursing home called in a frenzy. "Your father told us yesterday he was taking your mother out for the afternoon. She came back at eleven o'clock this morning. If she hadn't, she would have been discharged against medical advice." The woman paused to let me absorb this. "And Medicare would not have paid," she added.
"What did you do?" I asked Dad when I got him on the phone. "Did you lead some kind of jailbreak?"
He chuckled, sounding pleased with himself. "I went to see your mother and she said she wanted to go home," he said.
"So of course you took her home."
"Yes. I called a cab. And then the next morning Bess came upstairs and said the nursing home was frantic and that she wasn't supposed to be gone overnight. Nobody told me."
I asked him if he had been wearing his hearing aid. "That damned thing," he said. "I don't like it. There's too much static. I can hear better without it."
On my next trip to Fort Myers, in November, Dad surprised me with a question. "What's this about cassettes?" he asked.
I explained that there were audio and video cassettes. I said, "Some have music. Some have movies."
"Movie," he said.
We went to Wal-Mart the same day and bought a videotape player. A rack near the checkout line held a selection of inexpensive movies, and we bought a compilation of Laurel and Hardy shorts and The Snows of Kilimanjaro, with Gregory Peck. I hooked up the machine and played the Laurel and Hardy tape. Dad watched avidly for a few moments. He said, "That's really something." Then he picked up his paper and folded it to the crossword puzzle.
The next day we were driving past the old Fort Myers airport, now a general aviation field, as a small plane came in over the road for a slow landing. "You know, Nick," Dad said, "I think I'd like to learn to fly."
"Fly?" I cut a glance at him. He was gazing through the windshield, looking quite intrepid, as I remembered him at the helm of his boat, which he had named after my mother, but also quite old. His forehead was ravaged, the hair tinctured, the whites of his eyes a mucous brown. The hearing aid protruded behind his ear like an astronaut's jet pack. I had made him put it n before we left the house that morning. He reached up to adjust it.
"Yes," he said. "I've always thought I would."
"Why didn't you?" I asked.
"I don't know. I was always something."
I wish I could say that at that moment I turned the car around and found a pilot who would take us up. I thought about his heart, his hearing. But somebody in love with romance would have done it, put Dad in a front seat with redundant controls so he could touch them and feel the plane move and see out over the cowling to a spot on the horizon that held whatever he was looking for. Or maybe not. "It takes a long time to learn to fly," I said.
"Does it?" he said. "I think it would be nice, though."