Dying of Mortimer Post, The
Author: Barry W. Ozeroff
Publisher: L & L Dreamspell (2010)
Binding: Paperback, 288 pages
A tortured soul spends a lifetime struggling to make sense of a senseless world...
Mortimer Post is the quintessential product of late 1960's America. A college-bound physics major from a good family, he is engaged to his high-school sweetheart and is at the forefront of the American dream. That is, until twelve short minutes mark the end of his living and the beginning of his dying. But some deaths are slower than others, and Mortimer's takes a lifetime to complete.
Spanning four of America's most significant decades, The Dying of Mortimer Post takes the reader from the protagonist's coming of age in the Pocono Mountains to the massacre of Vietnamese civilians at My Lai. After the searing end of his military career, the reader accompanies Mortimer on a nationwide quest for understanding and healing. On this journey of discovery, he finds both happiness and sorrow in the backwoods of rural Mississippi, then a much darker side of himself on the unforgiving streets of Los Angeles. Only when he has lost everything and is finally ready for the release of death, does Mortimer discover he already has the one thing he's spent a lifetime seeking, and with it, the chance to finally live again.
Mortimer Post wants desperately to end his life but is interrupted by an annoying doorbell and halting memories that take the reader on "a journey of discovery," which covers more than forty years, from firefights in Vietnam to shootouts on the streets of L.A. This is a thriller based on the impending suicide of the narrator.
Before she committed suicide, Virginia Woolf lamented that it would be the only experience about which she could never write. Barry Ozeroff pleads a different case, however, in his thought-provoking novel The Dying of Mortimer Post. Post is not dying of a terminal illness but of a life that is, in his estimate, not worth living. It is a torrent of tragedies, an uncontrollable autorotation that cannot be stopped, for, as he says, "we don't control our fate, out fate controls us." His life becomes a fait accompli after a senseless tragedy that devastates his fiancé Shannon. This sets in motion a series of losses that are especially heart wrenching, because Mortimer is either there and cannot help or not there but should be to help. It is a battle of a profound existential nature, of a man trying to escape from running into his ruinous self. Even the telling of his story in the matter-of-fact style of a police report cannot make sense out of his pitiful fate. This is a novel where the reader can only sympathize with the protagonist. There is so much coming down on him, one feels helpless to chart for him a better path. His life is one big post traumatic disorder, and this diagnosis by the VA after his near death in Vietnam seems belated and futile. Written in the first person singular, there's more telling than showing and, given a character with emotional dysplasia, a comfortable narrative takes hold and the story becomes detached from the suspense. Mortimer's persistent reiterations of his tragedies become trying, there being no comic relief to break up the onslaught or an opposing character to remind him, "Memento mori." We know that Mortimer is not going to commit suicide or die, because he's telling the story in contemplation of suicide. There is a sense that the author is searching for a literary breakthrough but cannot find one. When he cannot show the future, he writes (speaks) and gives life to the present, his thoughts only traces of the past. The words defer the suicide the moment he sees it, touches it, and says it, and thus cannot do it. Is writing an act of dying? The author's experiences reconstructing auto accidents have obviously influenced his writing style. It must be a depressing job to know all the details of an accident but not know the reasons why. Such is the dying of Mortimer Post, a reconstruction of a life full of accidents that cannot be explained despite the soul-searching reconstructions. It is an extraordinary character study of a man plagued by violence and obsessive powerlessness. This is a great book for those interested in police work and helicopter operations, the wealth of details coming from the author's career as a California police officer and his extensive research into the Vietnam War.
Reviewed by: Richard Barone (2010)