“Letting go of one’s soul mate is not easy.”
So writes award-winning author and retired University of New Mexico professor Rudolfo Anaya in his latest novel,The Old Man’s Love Story. Inspired by the death of his beloved wife, Patricia, in 2010, the book is so poignant, and so powerful in its intimate exploration of grief, that readers may find themselves pausing after each chapter to sit quietly with their own experience of loss.
They may also find themselves chuckling at the narrator’s wry observations on the persistence of lust, and at his foil, Ernesto, an oversexed jock who struts about in a Speedo at the pool where the elderly narrator does aerobics “in the water, returning to my fish nature.”
The best books on grief—whether fiction or nonfiction—examine death and the concerns of the survivors with uncompromising candor. Anaya’s “old man” can’t stop asking questions after his wife dies. “Could one live as pure spirit?” he wonders. “Is she lost? Or am I the lost one?” Perhaps most heart-wrenchingly, he asks the unanswerable: “Why?”
But the author reaches beyond the story of an old man losing his soulmate. Within this lyrical volume, there’s a romantic love story with a beginning (“She Anglo and he a nuevo mexicano. Will the marriage last, family wondered”) and a middle (“Both taught school, so summers were for traveling”), as well as the inevitable end. Set against the landscapes of Mexico and New Mexico, the book delves into Chicano history, Mexican folktales, philosophical discourse on homelessness, hedge funds and even the war in Afghanistan. “The old man bowed his head and prayed,” Anaya writes. “He lived in reality, and reality smelled really bad.”
The Old Man’s Love Story offers an alternative to grief and nihilism. By its conclusion, a second romance emerges in the narrator’s unquenchable passion for life. Salvation comes not in the form of an awkward rendezvous with a new “lady friend,” but in his realization that he is still very much alive, nourished by both current events and his joyful memories.
This article originally appeared in High Country News.
The Old Man’s Love Story
By Rudolfo Anaya
University of Oklahoma
184 pages, $19.95