The End of the Alphabet C.S. Richardson
Broadway Books; $11.95
When your name is Ambrose Zephyr, it stands to reason that you might be interested in all things from A to Z. You draw many variations of the alphabet as a child, you dream of visiting places of interest from Amsterdam to Zanzibar, you grow up to marry a girl named Zapparo Ashkenazi.
But never in your wildest dreams do you imagine that, at age 50 and in “perfect” health, your doctor would announce that you have an incurable disease and have 30 days, more or less, to live.
In his debut novel, “The End of the Alphabet,” author C.S. Richardson examines this predicament in a fascinating, fast-paced manner.
Dealing with his diagnosis in his accustomed orderly A to Z manner, Englishman Ambrose Zephyr abandons his ad executive position and convinces his wife that they must embark on a journey to see the A to Z destinations he has always dreamed of. The couple swirls from Amsterdam to see a favorite portrait, to wander the streets in Berlin, rushing to Chartes in France, skipping D to dash to Elba – the pace is maddening to Zapparo who just wants to spend the last few weeks quietly loving her husband. But she understands his franticness, so indulges him in his plans.
Ambrose finally agrees to calm down a bit and visit Paris, the site of their first meeting, where they renew their devotion to one another. And after a last few draining stops in Florence, Germany and Italy, and as Ambrose’s health and stamina slowly begins to decline, the couple decides to return home to share the news of Ambrose’s illness with colleagues and friends, as only good English manners require.
Richardson beautifully captures the quiet desperation of dealing with an illness along with the maddening frustration and anger that brews for Ambrose as the victim. And the portrayal of Zappora as the quietly suffering wife, who grieves for her husband but also grieves for the unknown future for herself, is agonizingly beautiful. But it is the love story of Ambrose and Zappora’s life together and how they handle this unimaginable tragedy in their lives that makes this slender novel so exquisitely unique and charming.
“The End of the Alphabet” can be looked at as a fable of sorts in that there is a moral to the story – live each day to the fullest, fulfill your dreams as you dream them, for tomorrow you might not be around to do so.
But even without the moral aspect, this short novel is a thoroughly entertaining and thought provoking read.