Friday, September 25, 2009

Last Wish for a Dying Man by Gabriel Daemon

TITLE: Last Wish for a Dying Man
AUTHOR: Gabriel Daemon
PUBLISHER: eXcessica
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 15k)
GENRE: Mainstream drama
COST: $3.99

James Mailer has been granted his Last Wish, thirty days to live as a free man in exchange for giving up a life sentence behind bars and all rights to an appeal. After thirty days, he dies…

I find this author fascinating. The juxtaposition of a certain fatalism with hope within his characters lends a melancholy to his work that makes me respond intensely when the story is done well. I had incredibly strong reactions to two of his shorts in the anthology I read earlier this year, and this one most definitely falls in their league.

James has been convicted of killing his wife and her lover, and rather than spend his life behind bars, asks for the Last Wish. This grants the criminal thirty days to live as a free man (with some restrictions, since the police don’t want more crimes on their hands) with the understanding that he will die in some way when those thirty days are up. When the judge asks James why he’d choose to end his life now rather than potentially live another fifty years, he says simply, “I deserve it.” And means it. That demonstrates the level of guilt he feels regarding his crimes, and starts the path he takes over the course of this short story.

James chooses to spend his last month alive at his dead grandfather’s fishing cabin, a place he associates with peace and happiness. He just wants to be alone, but a female neighbor named Megan soon makes her presence known, and the two begin a friendship. Through their interactions, we learn more about James, his feelings about what happened, and how he deals with his guilt. It’s poignant without ever lapsing into melodrama, uplifting without ever getting sappy, and indicative of what short stories should really do. There is some mild graphic detail of what James did to deserve his punishment, but I was left with more questions than answers, and actually wished I’d gotten them.

Megan is a little more of an enigma than James, but then again, this isn’t about her. Still, I found their relationship believable and invested in what she gave to James in his last days. Their sex does get described in erotic detail, but it’s never overdone or overwhelming to the story’s emotional thrust. In fact, the only thing that really throws me in this – other than the ending which didn’t end up surprising me as much as the author probably would have wanted – is the few places where POV gets a little fluid. The bulk of this story is told in James’ 3rd person perspective, but every once in a while, it slides into Megan’s for a sentence or two. It’s distracting and weakens it overall.

Not nearly enough for me not to enjoy it, though. And hardly matters at all when considering buying more of this author’s work, because I most definitely will.


8/10 – Though POV slips every one in a while to slow me down, it’s otherwise a swift, smooth read


9/10 – I believed in both leads, though I had even more questions about them at the end


8/10 – Trusting characterization made it easier to get embroiled in the journey they took

Entertainment value

8/10 – I love the quietness of the emotional evolution contrasted with the violent circumstances that brought them there

World building

8/10 – The cabin milieu is strongest by far, but then again, it’s meant to be



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