- Full Moon at Noontide: A Daughter's Last Goodbye
Anyone who has traveled with loved ones through modern America's version of old-age death—that is, the years of increasing debilitation; the drugs and operations and medical interventions; the sequences of emergency rooms, hospitals, "rehabilitation" facilities, nursing homes, and hospice care—will find familiar country in Ann Putnam's memoir. She delivers a story both profoundly painful and somehow life-affirming, lifted into literature by her sharp intelligence and luminous writing. As she puts it, "In old age, the hold to decorousness is a hold to a full moon waning" (57).
Full Moon at Noontide is the story of Putnam's final devotions to her parents and her beloved uncle, her father's identical twin. Beginning with her father's stroke, we accompany all three elders as they physically and mentally come apart; we witness Putnam's dutiful, only-child attentions to them. But she also revisits the bonds between the three and the past, the forces that shaped their lives, and the love they bestowed upon her as a child. As she asks and answers in her preface, "What interest might there be in reading of this inevitable journey taken by such ordinary people? Turned to the light just so, the beauty and laughter of the telling transcend the darkness of the tale" (xxi).
Much, of course, has been written about death and dying. (We might remember Freud: "The goal of all life is death.") Many memoirs and texts purport to be guides of one sort or another—to get us through, to provide practical or spiritual sustenance. Thankfully, Putnam, a Hemingway scholar and professor of creative writing and women's studies at the University of Puget Sound, chose a different path. Her honest narrative [End Page 194] does not gloss the ugly realities of aging and the difficult choices that families must make. What she does do is show respect for everyone involved and write with—not about—beauty. Here is her father: "And the sudden, garbled speech. He'd wake in the morning to find another part of him had flown off in the night" (151).
For all Putnam's erudition, her touchstones in this book are not literary; they're family stories, dreams, sometimes popular culture (shared television programs, songs, baseball). I might have expected more references to literature in such a book, beyond the ones to Thoreau and his metaphors that show up early. I kept thinking, surely this Hemingway scholar will have something to say about Hemingway's suicide or the renewal his war-torn Nick Adams found in "Big Two-Hearted River"; surely she'll then launch into a consideration of suicide as an end-of-life choice, or she'll reflect on nature's healing qualities. Or perhaps she'd relate to another text about caring for an elderly parent, such as Oregonian John Daniel's award-winning Looking After: A Son's Memoir (1996). The lack of such contextualizing, however, may well be offset by the purity of the experience Putnam so elegantly describes, unencumbered by events outside her family intimacies.