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Book Review by Robin Widmar

“Something to Live For”

There are so many books being released these days, and yet it has become increasingly difficult to find unique stories worthy of the money and time invested by a reader. So when I find an entertaining novel that holds my attention without descending into tired tropes, and is different from anything Iíve recently read ó well, it winds up here.Allow me to introduce Andrew Smith, the protagonist of Richard Roperís somewhat dark but humorous debut novel ìSomething to Live Forî (previously published as ìHow Not to Die Aloneî). Andrew works for a British agency that handles the final affairs of people who have died alone with no known family. His job is to find next of kin and potential financial resources to cover the costs of burial or cremation, often by going through the late personís home and personal effects. This less-than-cheery task becomes even more unpleasant in cases where at-home deaths were not discovered right away and the odorous effects of decomposition linger in closed and cluttered spaces. Still, Andrew manages to derive some satisfaction from helping tie up loose ends for these solitary souls and from regularly being the lone attendee at their funerals.Then, the agency hires a vibrant woman named Peggy who becomes Andrewís work partner. Her upbeat presence contrasts with his dull, nonsocial, bachelor life. Every day, Andrew comes home to his dreary flat and is met, ìas he had been for the last twenty years, by nothing but silence.î An eveningís entertainment might consist of playing Ella Fitzgerald records while working on model train layouts or connecting online with a select group of fellow model train enthusiasts ó people he can chat with but never has to meet in person.Many of the cases that Andrew and Peggy investigate involve people who have fallen out of contact with family and friends ó situations that uncomfortably mirror Andrewís own estrangement from his sister and lack of real-world friendships. He knows he is in danger of winding up like one of his late clients: dying alone in his drab little apartment with no one to mourn his passing. He acknowledges an innate desire to be needed and to matter, ìto be an active participant in someone elseís life, to think that maybe he was more than just a lump of carbon being slowly ushered to an unvarnished coffin.îBut Andrewís lonely existence is a secret that he bears alone, deliberately concealing it from Peggy and his other co-workers. As far as they know, Andrew is a family man who goes home every evening to his loving and talented lawyer wife, two smart kids and a big, beautiful home. It is all a complete lie that he fabricated to cover an awkward moment during his job interview. Unable to figure out how to extricate himself from what has become an elaborate ruse, the burden of secrecy wears on Andrew. ìHe was constantly on edge, waiting for the moment he got himself tangled up in knots or completely contradicted himself.îAndrewís burgeoning attraction to Peggy, among other events, inspires him to finally come clean with her and his co-workers so he can start living once more. But how will he do it? And more importantly, will Peggy forgive him or will he lose her friendship forever? Andrewís attempts to rectify his great deception take interesting, amusing, and emotional turns as he confronts hard truths he has long avoided.In another writerís hands, ìSomething to Live Forî could be a story as bleak as Andrewís drab apartment. Roperís wry British humor elevates the narrative from depressing and cynical to hopeful and frequently funny. A cast of colorful, quirky characters (including his free-spirited sister, a vengeful brother-in-law and a boss who is ìa dead ringer for a young Wallace from ëWallace and Gromitî) provide ample opportunities to explore the consequences of duplicity, the frailty of human relationships and the importance of having friends to fill gaps that families cannot.

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