Now, at the morning meeting, Miller began describing the case of a young man named Randy Sloan, a patient at U.C.S.F. who died of an aggressive cancer a few weeks earlier at Zen Hospice. In a way, Sloan’s case was typical. It passed through all the same medical decision points and existential themes the doctors knew from working with their own terminal patients. But here, the timeline was so compressed that those themes felt distilled and heightened.
And then there was the bracing idiosyncrasy of everything Miller’s staff had been able to do for Sloan at Zen Hospice. Rabow told me that all palliative-care departments and home-hospice agencies believe patients’ wishes should be honored, but Zen Hospice’s small size allows it to “actualize” these ideals more fully. When Miller relayed one detail about Sloan’s stay at the hospice — it was either the part about the sailing trip or the wedding — one doctor across the conference table expelled what seemed to be an involuntary, admiring, “What?”
Everything Miller was saying had a way of sharpening an essential set of questions: What is a good death? How do you judge? In the end, what matters? You got the sense that looking closely at Sloan’s case might even get you close to some answers or, at least, less hopelessly far away.
This is the story he told.
Gay has fun with these ladies. Her narrative games aren’t rulesy. She plays with structure and pacing, breaking up some stories with internal chapterlets, writing long (upward of 20 pages) and very short (under two pages). She moves easily from first to third person, sometimes within a single story. She creates worlds that are firmly realist and worlds that are fantastically far-fetched — there is a wife who is dogged by water, as if under a personal rain cloud, and a wife who is made of glass.
"Dogs are better than human beings," wrote Emily Dickinson, "because they know but don't tell." That sentiment comes to mind when considering Emily Bitto's debut novel, which showcases a dazzling, gabby and ultimately doomed collection of stray human beings. Assembled under one bohemian roof in 1930s Australia, most of these characters tell all to a fault. But one, an adolescent girl named Lily, sees all but keeps her mouth firmly shut — until she comes to narrate this book. Framed as a memoir drafted in 1985, when Lily has grown to maturity, The Strays invites readers into a world that is by turns disturbing and magical.
It’s difficult to picture anyone arguing that Disney’s animated adventure musical Moana is in any way inferior to fellow cartoons like DreamWorks’ Trolls, a movie based on a once-popular line of toy trolls, or Illumination Entertainment’s Sing, a movie based on the frequently popular idea of singing. But 20 years ago, actual cartoons with contemporary music cues or dizzying mashups might have felt downright cutting edge. These days, there’s a good chance you find this vaguely annoying. Have we as a culture grown so hardhearted to both eye-popping animation and glittering pop music that we can no longer be impressed by a combination of the two? Or is there something genuinely and insidiously annoying about what has come to be known as the dance-party ending?