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Rules for Old Men Waiting
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Rules for Old Men Waiting

3.67  ·  Rating Details ·  594 Ratings  ·  132 Reviews
"In a house on the Cape "older than the Republic," Robert MacIver, a historian who long ago played rugby for Scotland, creates a list of rules by which to live out his last days. The most important rule, to "tell a story to its end," spurs the old Scot to invent a strange and gripping tale of men in the trenches of the First World War. From a depth of knowledge and imagina ...more
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published April 12th 2005 by Random House (first published 2005)
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A story within a story that shows how love can define a life, how decency can happen even between men who are not equals, how anger and ego can be tempered by friendship, how loyalty can overcome striving, how the burden and gift of mortality can bring a man to his knees or lift his thoughts beyond himself . . . All that pebbled with scenes that come alive through a nostalgic nod at art, music, humor, sex, travel, domestic life , academic life, and sport makes this a big little book !
Jun 04, 2015 Corey rated it really liked it
A beautifully written novel about aging, war, and making peace with yourself.
Tom Tabasco
Mar 14, 2015 Tom Tabasco rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a wonderfully poetic book, with a huge soul. The narrative structure is not ideal, with the close third person telling us about a main character who himself is writing a book about his memories - but somehow it works. What is striking about this book is:
- the main character, MacIver: rough, brave, strong, Scottish masculine ex-rugby player who was an over-achiever, got a PhD in history, and at the same time has a keen eye for art and a wonderful ear for music. How refreshingly different fr
Jesse Hanson
Dec 01, 2010 Jesse Hanson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A Brilliant Portrayal of a Man in Reflection~Of a Man with a Purpose.

I found this book in the little corner library (I could scarcely use the term more loosely) of an assisted living facility. I liked the cover. I read it and I now I have to return it but I don't want to--that means I'll have buy my own copy. About the only part of me that didn't like it was my ego. I'm also a writer and I am jealous of the author's accomplishment... There, I said it.

Rules for Old Men Waiting is Peter Pouncey's
Oct 12, 2011 Rebecca rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love this writer. I like the way he writes about an old guy who at first seems to be waiting to die. I don't think it's a spoiler to say that he ends up living his life.

I would have guessed that I would want to read a book about an old guy examining his life, a book about a young man who thinks about the world, a book about a marriage relationship, a book about facing oneself, a book about discovering the effect one has had on others. I would not think that I would want to read a book about pa
Dec 05, 2007 Kaarin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Apparently this is the one and only work of fiction that Peter Pouncey has ever written, and what an absolute gem it is. A must read for anyone who admires beautifully crafted, intelligent and souful writing. This may even make my top 10 list, but then again, there are so many great books out there in the world....!
I read this "Rules for Old Men" on my Kindle for one of my book club selections and I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Although these was sadness reading this story, is was very well done.

An old man, Robert MacIver, having lost his wife falls into a deep depression when thinking about his future life. He lives in a run down house in the countryside. The house needs much care taking. The front porch needs repairing and numerous daily tasks have to be done for him to successfully live in the house and
Bill Keefe
Oct 14, 2012 Bill Keefe rated it liked it
Intrigued by the title I ventured in. The first chapter, the setting of the rules, kept me reading. Change, sadness and a self-prescribed regime for productive survival...productive winding down.

Given the title and the intro, I had expected, and hoped, that the prescription itself would play a large part in the story, perhaps following through a complex ending of life. As it turns out, the prescription serves as little more than a structure to keep the main character alive so that two stories ca
Feb 06, 2016 Kklingon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved the start of this one; it reminded me of Stegner, one of my great favorites. Then the author introduced a story within the story, and I wasn't too sure I wanted to break away from the original story. I stuck with it, though, and am glad I did. Lovely, (mostly) quiet book about coming to terms with one's life at its end.
Sara Woodbury
Feb 04, 2012 Sara Woodbury rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-again
A story within a story. A dying man writes the story that has been on his mind, and the story tells so much in so few words. A keeper.
I keep thinking about this book, years after I read it. I think that merits another star, so 4 instead of 3.
Jan 16, 2017 Patricia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A beautifully written and haunting novel. A story within in a story. Robert MacIver is an elderly professor and writer. He is living remotely after his wife, Margaret, has died. Age is catching up with him physically and mentally. He has a hard time focusing, remembering, and eating properly. As the story unfolds we learn about the sorrow he and Margaret carried when their only child, David, is killed. David was a medic in Vietnam and he returns home only to die from a leg wound received in the ...more
Paul Putman
There are many excellent sections though it reads more like a collection of sketches for a novel than a seamless work. I am left with positive recollections of these fragments, however.
Dec 26, 2012 Scott rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'd like to talk about the sheer technique of this book while praising its heart. Pouncey takes his old, old protagonist, telling it all in 3rd person, and immediately puts him under great distress by the death of his wife, then traps him in two types of life threatening danger -- the reader is bonded to this book immediately by the inevitability of tragedy. Then, as the hero faces an unpleasant death in a cold, cold house, he makes up his own rules for a graceful leave-taking. Pouncey immediate ...more
Jayne Charles
This book follows an elderly military historian who holes up in his holiday home and pretty much waits to die. His wife and son are both dead, and being alone, he sets himself various rules which govern how he will spend his remaining days, in terms of cooking, doing a bit of writing each day, and so on, in an entirely believable old-military-blokeish short of way.

Sombre in tone, the novel takes the form of a series of reminiscences - how he met his wife, his early career as a rugby player, but
The author clearly has strong talent and does create some moving images/events (the story of the protagonist's son's experience in Vietnam, elements of the WWI story the protagonist is writing throughout the novel) as well as his description of the protagonist's experience in WWII are also well written. However, the focus of the novel is suppose (I thought) to be an older man dealing with the death of his wife...but we never really get into his thoughts, we do not see his thoughts and how they e ...more
Jul 10, 2011 zespri rated it liked it
I loved the title of this book, and wondered what it could be about, so decided to give it a try.

It was a lovely, gentle, sad read.

Robert MacIver is a retired history professor struggling to come to terms with the death of his beloved wife. Having also lost his only son in the Vietnam war his loss causes him to slide into a deep depression which totally engulfs him. He stops eating and taking proper care of himself until a sudden fall seems to jerk him back to reality and a decision to try to "t
Dec 31, 2014 Peter rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
A nice first novel by a former professor of the classics. Not quite the masterwork the back cover said, but still engaging. It was interesting to read and have the story unfold and to wonder how much of the main character's life and views are the author's, and how much he wishes was true. As they say, write what you know.

The protagonist, called by his last name, MacIver, loses his lovely wife, he begins the process of preparing himself for his passing. He then makes some rules for his time alon
Linda Robinson
Oct 12, 2013 Linda Robinson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Margaret and he had watched the pond over the years at every hour in every season." With this line, we are allowed into the lives of the MacIvers, Robert and Margaret. 3 wars spin out through the storytelling. Robert's father took to the air in WWI because he didn't want to die in the mud, and caused Robert to make history his career choice, and WWI his specialty. WWII put Robert on a ship targeting a hilltop gun bunker through binoculars. And Vietnam put another MacIver in a helicopter, flying ...more
Susan Vreeland
Mar 31, 2012 Susan Vreeland rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When I was casting around for a new story to tell, my editor at Random House, Jane von Mehren, gave me a copy of Rules for Old Men Waiting. I'm so glad she did. In the twilight of his life, the protagonist, Robert McIver, writes a list, the most important item on it is to "tell as story to its end." This sets up the story within the story, unfolding as Robert invents scenes from World War I which allow him to tell his sensibilities. Introspective, quiet, yet with one shocking scene. An unusual l ...more
Bookmarks Magazine

We'd like to think a better-late-than-never literary debut hasn't garnered this much attention since Ants on the Melon, Virginia Hamilton Adair's first collection of poetry published at age 87. Pouncey, a classics professor at Columbia University and the retired President of Amherst College, began work on Rules in 1981; at a slim 210 pages, it's obvious he chose his words carefully. Reviewers generously praise Pouncey's controlled prose and ripened wisdom. Those who enjoy the book embrace it as

Nov 14, 2007 Joanna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a quiet, introspective book. The protagonist is an old man, a retired historian and former rugby star, who is writing his final book and waiting to die. He is dying alone and comes to terms with his death through his writing and through his "rules" for how to spend his time during the final days--cook real food, write every day, no scotch until the end of the day, etc. I found the voice of the narrator entirely believable as he reflected on his own less than perfect character and his bel ...more
Mar 09, 2009 Cathy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009-books
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 31, 2008 J.R. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This is a novel about a man coming to terms with his own mortality, though he does not go gently to his end.

Robert MacIver is a historian and former rugby star spending his final days alone in a Cape Cod house filled with memories. It is those memories—of his wife, son and friends, good and bad experiences, the little joys and tragedies that make up life—which sustain him and encourage him to devise a set of rules that are “…a plan to take back his life, until he could give it away on an accepta
Neil Crossan
Nov 05, 2011 Neil Crossan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Neil by: Amy Carberg
The title alone is enough to depress you and Pouncey follows through with enough death in this 208 page book to make Stephen King proud. A true water boarding of depressing literary events. But then you have to remember that this is his first book and you need to be forgiving if he tends to over do it. To me it’s two short stories ideas fused together to make one book. The WWI aspects were more engaging than the old man in an old house looking back on his life. The writing is strong most of the ...more
Mar 10, 2016 Lynette rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a beautiful book, masterfully written, which I will want to revisit and discuss in the future. It is quiet but powerful and promises to remain with me for some time. A life remembered; a mate and companion fully appreciated and loved; a tragedy lived and eventually lived with; a conquering and ordering of illness and death, to be realized and managed on one's own terms, instead of their own; the creation of art; the survival of war: these are a few of the themes the author deals with in ...more
Mar 10, 2011 Charlotte rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another book that has been sitting waiting on the shelf for years. I think this has the wrong title--it suggests a level of depression that the book largely manages to avoid, although it is very sad. The story of a Scottish historian who has lost his beloved wife and is alone in his Wellfleet cape house getting through (or not) the winter. The long, meditative passages are interesting and forced me to read at a slower pace. It was good to spend a couple of hundred pages with MacIver, the protago ...more
Apr 28, 2009 Dianne rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The two different narrative strands--Pouncey writing about MacIver, and MacIver writing about his own novel--were oddly variant. The secondary story line felt like a draft, and I couldn't remember or tell if I was reading something meant to be understood as draft, or if I was supposed to be reading a narrator less talented than the primary narrator (Pouncey). Plot moves along at a fairly rapid pace. All of the stuff about old people and loss felt simultaneously too sentimental and all too real. ...more
Apr 07, 2011 Paddy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Read this for book group, made me long for last month's selection, To the Lighthouse, in which Virginia Woolf masterfully revealed the inner life of several characters. Today too many novelists try to weave in various characters stories and mostly fail. (Colm McCann succeeded in Let the Great World Spin.) I found myself skipping over the old man's stories, but I did like the main story of MacIver and Margaret, although I wanted to throttle the old man and found his burning furniture to stay warm ...more
Jan 11, 2010 Jerry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
That both the protagonist, Robert Maciver, and the author were rugby players, as I was for many years, brought this book close to my heart. More important, the well conceived and beautifully written story of a man thinking back over his life while waiting for his approaching death made me even more aware of my own approaching mortality.

NOTE: The author attended our book club meeting and, as authors usually do, brought the story to life with a feeling for the inner meaning(s) and motivation(s) fo
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Peter R. Pouncey (born 1937) is an author, classicist, and university administrator. The son of a British father and a French-British mother, he was born in Tsingtao (now Qingdao), China. At the end of World War II, after several dislocations and separations, his family reassembled in England, and Pouncey was educated there in boarding schools and at Oxford. For a time, he studied for the Jesuit p ...more
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“Let me be to my sad self hereafter kind.” 4 likes
“. . . Most falls aren't free -- there is always the tension, it seems to me, between what you are falling from and what you are falling to.” 2 likes
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