Title: "A Necessary End"Author: Nick TaylorPublisher: Nan...



Title: "A Necessary End"

Author: Nick Taylor

Publisher: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday

Length, price: 194 pages, $15

There are more than 31 million people age 65 and over in the United States. Most of them are the parents of the rest of us. What do our parents need? What must we do for them? What becomes of us in the process? Nick Taylor attempts to answer these questions in his latest book. Part memoir, part eulogy, "A Necessary End" describes John and Claire Taylor -- his parents -- during their final years.

Quoting Erasmus, Mr. Taylor warns: "the passage toward deth is more harde and paynfull than deth it self." This proves true in the Taylors' case. The elderly couple, in declining health, move to Mexico "because there is no place [in the United States] for the elderly who have small incomes and little money." Illness forces them back to this country. They battle, but succumb to, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Mr. Taylor, their only child, makes numerous emergency trips between New York and Florida, trying to care for his parents while also trying to live his own life. He is caught in the "octopus" of Medicare and social services. He also is caught in feelings of anger, love, guilt and helplessness. This book provides moving testimony to such feelings. Title: "Looking After Lily"

Author: Cindy Bonner

Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

Length, price: 326 pages, $18.95

The young heroine of Cindy Bonner's engaging first novel, a love story set in the old West, returns in this sequel to "Lily." But she isn't telling her own story this time: Her brother-in-law Haywood narrates "Looking After Lily."

In the first book, Lily, a good, hard-working girl, falls for the wrong man -- an outlaw named Marion Beatty who, with his brothers, gets mixed up in some thoroughly messy and suspenseful scrapes. The novel ends with her heading for the jail to rescue her true love with a gun.

Cooler heads prevail, and Marion, who's stuck in prison, asks his irresponsible brother, Haywood, to look after his pregnant wife. Actually, irresponsible is something of an understatement, as every drink, whore and gambling opportunity lures Haywood away from his pledged duty.

Still, Haywood has good intentions, and he discovers a core of strength that is fed by a growing and inconvenient feeling -- love for his sister-in-law. The romance angle isn't nearly as strong here as it was in "Lily," but Ms. Bonner's appealing narrative is just as interesting, with its historical details and colloquial eloquence. Despite the dearth of passion, this is still fun reading, made all the better because it was inspired by real people and events.


Title: "Cultural Revolution"

Authors: Norman Wong

Publisher: Persea Books

Length, price: 177 pages, $21

Over the last 10 or so years, collections of short stories linked by the same characters have become a sub-genre. "Cultural Revolution," by Norman Wong, a graduate of the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, is mostly concerned with Michael, who is gay and Chinese. We see him coming to terms with his sexuality and family; he's got a hostile father, a frightened mother, a withdrawn older sister. The book also touches on his parents' first meeting, and the childhood of Wei, Michael's father.

Mr. Wong's writing can be incredibly evocative, such as this description of orchids: "Earlike shapes of colors that are not quite colors, pinks brighter than pink, dark whites, and yellows. . . . The larger flowers shoot upwards; the smaller ones rain down in clusters. Michael waits for them to make a sound. In their clay pots, tightly twined twigs hold down their veiny, hard roots, so much like scary fingers."

Ironically, the strongest pieces here are the few without Michael. This is not to say the Michael stories don't work, since Mr. Wong's writing is accomplished, his characters engaging. It's just that as soon as Michael comes on the scene the work feels almost imperceptibly strident, as if a subtle, private agenda needs to be filled.


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