How Not to Die Alone. Richard Roper. Penguin Publishing Group. Copyright May 28, 2019, pb, 336 pp.; ISBN: 9780525539889.
Andrew is a 42-year-old man who is a bachelor. He works for the Death Administration Council. What that basically means is that when a person dies without anyone, Andrew must check out if there are any family, any cash or bank accounts to pay for the funeral, and stay until the body is sent to the morgue. But Andrew is a good soul, albeit pathetic, who even goes to the funeral of the deceased. The intriguing part is that as this story begins, he lies through his teeth to his coworkers, saying that he is married, has two children and works in a posh home in an upper-class neighborhood. One could understand that but he makes it worse by adding to the story frequently to the point where his peers are dying to meet his family and visit his phenomenal home. The saving grace for a very difficult first few chapters is that Andrew has a ripping, great sense of humor in spite of his pathetic lies.
Two occasions mark the turning point for Andrew. One is a new co-worker, Peggy, who is married with two daughters. At first, he is intent on helping her to adjust to her new job which is the same as his job. Little by little, with some innocent but increasingly revealing conversations, he finds himself realizing he’s falling in love with her. She has a bad marriage that’s little by little falling apart and he discovers he really cares what happens to her.
At the same time, he has a strange relationship with his own family, especially his sister who wants him to face his past. Sally and Andrew had a close but fraught relationship and she blames him for the fact they have grown apart. A tragedy happens and Sally’s ex-boyfriend is convinced Andrew is responsible because Sally worried so much about him. What the boyfriend wants is a wake-up call for Andrew.
The plot evolves and doesn’t quite go where everyone expects, but it can be said that Andrew is a new person as a result of the experiences he has with Peggy and Sally.
Hang in reader because this is a story that can’t be quickly forgotten and therein lies its redemptive qualities for both the characters in the story and the reader who is made to question and think about relationships and people. Interesting, annoying but redeemable contemporary fiction!