The A-Z of You and Me (review)

The A-Z of You and Me (NetGalley)
James Hannah
Sourcebooks

I read James Hannah’s new novel The A-Z of You and Me in two sittings. How could I not? The story might be a little familiar to some readers with shades of The Love Story of Miss Queenie Hennessey, My Name is Lucy Barton, and even If I Stay. But this protagonist is 40, male, and has lived a life dancing on the edge of addiction, never quite growing up.

Ivo is in hospice–it’s come to that. He’s a diabetic and his kidneys are failing, his lifestyle not much help keeping the disease ina-z of you and me check. Nurse Sheila has been a sort of coach in the week he’s been at St. Leonard’s, but he’s “no better, no worse”. It’s a waiting game, is all, and Sheila’s job seems to be to get Ivo to the end with no loose ends. (With her understated wisdom and calm encouragement, I think Sheila might have been my favorite character.) She suggests he play the “A-Z” game–think of a body part for each letter of the alphabet and “tell a little story about each part” to keep his mind sharp.

And so we get the story of Ivo’s life–and great love–one letter at a time. Adam’s apple, Back, and Eyes, Feet, Intestine, and Jugular. One letter at a time we meet his mates Mal and Laura and Kelvin and Beth. Their life in the fast lane, drinking and drugging. Driftless too long into their adult years, their friendship doesn’t even put the ‘fun’ in dysfunctional and it’s a dreary life.

But then there’s Mia. Always Mia–cheering Ivo on from inside his head: “You have to try. You have to keep going forward … You’re better than this.” Missing Mia. His ex, Ivo calls her. Yet the wool blanket she knit for him as a birthday present years ago (the one Sheila dug from his bag and folded over him) still wraps him in memories of when they were together.

It surprised me a bit that a novel about dying could be funny. But parts of A-Z are humorous in a wry and witty kind of way.

Still, it’s a hard story to read–especially if you’ve watched someone up close deal with addiction or chronic disease. There’s no great moment of illumination for Ivo in his hard-won end … just a series of flashes that lighten his wait and ease–even just a bit–the pain of leaving.

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