Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.
Ivo, the forty-something protagonist, is in hospice care, dying of kidney disease. He’s a longtime diabetic who was poorly compliant with therapy. Moreover he drank heavily, smoked, and abused drugs. He had been a bratty kid, a smart-mouth all through school, and he eventually got a job in a local Garden Center. He has a true love of flowers and gardening, but never had the ambition or stamina to go through with his studies to be a garden designer.
Hannah manages to make this difficult protagonist a thoroughly sympathetic character. As he slowly fades, suffering through all the indignities of a painful, lonely death, estranged from friends and family, he is tended to by a kind, caring hospice nurse who tries distracting him from his misery with a game: he is to name a body part beginning with each letter of the alphabet, and then think of a story to go along with it. This game provides a framework for each of Ivo’s memories. His thoughts carry the reader back and forth through time, with each recollection revealing a little more of Ivo’s past.
One bright spot in Ivo’s life was his great love, Mia, a nursing student/nurse who couldn’t bear to see what he was doing to himself. It’s frustrating watching Ivo desperately wishing he could do the right thing, to hold onto Mia, while at the same time being unable to break away from his destructive behaviors and the unthinking friends who are just as miserable, just as destructive, but not diabetic. The characters are realistically portrayed with all their warts.
This heartbreaking story is beautifully told.
If you like this novel, you may also like The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns by Margaret Dilloway.