Wednesday, May 22, 2019

How Not to Die Alone

How Not to Die Alone by Richard Roper
Penguin Random House: 5/22/19
eBook review copy; 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9780525539889

How Not to Die Alone by Richard Roper is a very highly recommended quirky, delightful, funny, heartbreaking, and hopeful debut novel. Yeah, ALL the emotions are here in this debut novel that had me entrenched and invested from beginning to end.

Andrew, 42, has a public health job at the Death Administration department that few people could do, let alone with the compassion Andrew shows. He enters the homes of deceased individuals who died alone and searches for some evidence of a next of kin or assets that will provide the ability to cover the burial costs. He also attends the funeral services, often as the only mourner present. Co-workers think he goes home each night to a loving wife and two children, but that is not the case. When applying for the job years earlier a misunderstanding led to the lie and he has found it easier to perpetuate it. His only friends are members of a private group on an online model train forum. His only relative is an older sister who he only talks to on the phone a few times a year.

When Peggy joins the department and Andrew and Peggy begin to form a friendship and connection. A relationship would be impossible. Peggy is in a troubled marriage, but she believes Andrew also is married. Then, when his boss decides that each member of the team will now host a monthly dinner at their home, Andrew is in a tough position. If he confesses and tells the truth now, he could lose everything, but if doesn't he could lose any chance of happiness.
The characters are all well-developed, flawed, and realistic. Andrew is a kind, awkward, and lonely man, who is still suffering from past traumas that the reader will not know all the details of until the end - and then everything in the story falls into place. In the narrative, most of his problems all seem to be self-inflicted, serving to keep Andrew safe, but lonely. Peggy is actually good for Andrew, making him open himself up to new experiences. If Andrew can take a risk, he may be able to make some personal connections, and find a chance at happiness.

The writing is excellent and the narrative is well-paced. Roper does an incredible job introducing new information and developing the plot and characters slowly to the reader, until a big final reveal at the end. How Not to Die Alone is much funnier and more poignant than any description could do justice to. In spite of the fact that Peggy is married, you will be rooting for these two. I didn't jump up to the five stars until the end, although I also talked back about the very final denouement in regards to his job.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.

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