Sunday, October 12, 2008

To Kill for Love

Chris is taking his friend and former colleague Larry on a duck-hunting trip. Larry will need some assistance, because the former college history professor has multiple sclerosis and less than a year to live. They once hunted together often, but this will be their last time, if Chris has his way.

Chris is divorced and in love with Larry's wife, Rachel. Larry, after losing his job, his body and periodically his mind to the illness, has expressed the wish to die. Chris plans to oblige him. This much you know practically from the first chapter of Jon Hassler's book The Love Hunter. Hassler, a Minnesota novelist, died last March of a Parkinson's-like illness.

Chris, a school psychologist, is not a criminal type by any ordinary standard. He can be careless: he nearly shot off his friend's head during their first hunting expedition. He was responsible for his ex-wife's dog getting killed in traffic, though he has a good explanation for it.

Rachel (for the most part) and their son Bruce are devoted to Larry in his illness. Her relationship with Larry's best friend is complicated. Larry needs Chris, but Chris' attentions toward Rachel strain Larry's already fragile mental state. Rachel, an actress, keeps Chris guessing. He figures once Larry is out of the way the problem will be solved.

The book is a dialogue on love, and Chris and Rachel have different theories. Rachel sees a continuity between what her husband was and what he is by now with love as the constant. Chris, who admits to his emptiness, sees love as a blind attraction.
Love, according to Chris, was that heedless dash toward what we believe is the source of our happiness, never mind if the source proves, when we get there, to be nothing but a squawk box.
The details of the story are precious. This is a messy illness, and Larry's grief is harrowing. Chris wants to keep things in hand, but events never go according to plan. And life itself will intervene in a very satisfying manner.

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