‘How Not to Die Alone’ full of twisted irony

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The house is so quiet.
The kids are away at sleepovers. Your spouse is out, the TV’s off, and it’s just you and a cup of something relaxing. You can almost hear your heart beat, it’s so quiet. It’s almost too quiet. As in the new novel “How Not to Die Alone” by Richard Roper, silence is sometimes very loud.
Andrew was the only one at the funeral. That was usually the case these days: just he and the vicar and the deceased, who likely didn’t care how many mourners showed up.
He didn’t have to go to any funerals; that wasn’t part of Andrew’s job. His actual job was to visit an apartment when someone had died alone, to find stashed cash or possible next-of-kin. If neither was found, then the Queen’s coffers paid for a ceremony and Andrew thought it respectful if he attended.
And when his workday was over, he went home straightaway, where he had his vinyl Ella Fitzgerald albums and his model trains to keep him company.
Sometimes, he saw the irony in his situation.
Mostly, he fretted about it.
He fretted because he’d accidentally allowed his boss to believe that Andrew had a wife and kids at home. There was no graceful way out of the lie then, and there was no good way out of it now, so he made up little stories at work about an entire family that didn’t exist. It was a lie he might’ve maintained, too, if it weren’t for a round of job-cutting that frightened the boss into forcing the staff to “bond” through mandatory pot-lucks at each of their homes.
Then there was Peggy, Andrew’s new colleague, who’d been assigned to him to mentor, and who’d become his new friend before she became his new love, although she didn’t know that last part because Andrew couldn’t tell her without revealing his lie, and what if she hated him then?
What if she told him to get lost?
What if Andrew decided to do something drastic?
Reading “How Not to Die Alone” is like unpacking that very last box after a move: you’ll wonder why you didn’t open it first because the things inside are so delightful.
By taking a sobering premise and sprinkling it heavily with the wryest, darkest humor, author Richard Roper offers a story you’ll really hate to put down. Roper’s Andrew is a fellow with a bulls-eye on his head, a target on his back, and he’s lonesome enough to be happy for the attention – until he gains a friend. At that point, this book becomes origami-like: it folds inward to make us gasp in surprise and unfolds into a real charmer as Andrew blossoms and we fall in love, too.
This is one of those books that’ll make you laugh at one line, say, “Awwwww” three paragraphs later, and be entertained everywhere in between. Get it for yourself and buy two because “How Not to Die Alone” is a novel you won’t be able to keep quiet about.
(“How Not to Die Alone” by Richard Roper; c.2019, Putnam $26/$35 Canada; 336 pages.)

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