Last Things, published in 2021 through the publishing arm of The Augustine Institute, is a work of fiction authored by Paul McCusker. It details slightly more than one year in the life of Michael Reynolds and his family as they weather Michael's unexpected job loss and his father’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Michael, his son Ethan, and his father James (Pop) tell their parts of the story utilizing a first-person narrative. This writing-technique ensures that the readers are not mere spectators; they experience the inner workings of the characters’ minds as they struggle with news, difficulties, decisions, and changes.
Throughout the story, the inner thoughts of these three men turn often toward things spiritual and emotional. Their relationships with each other, with other family members, and with God occupy a good part of the inner dialogue. As each travels his individual and intertwined relational path, thoughts and questions turn toward God and His place in their lives. Michael’s journey seems to stand out from the others, as he explores issues of trust, longing, grief, and letting go. Early in his story, Michael expresses that it is his job to figure things out because he thinks that he cannot count on God. His difficult path is peppered with those questions someone asks when confronted with suffering: Why? What happened? What are you doing, God? Why is there suffering?
Mr. McCusker tackles the difficult subject of Alzheimer’s disease with gentleness, delicacy, and even a dash of humor. The grief, despair, and loneliness one would expect in such a story are not absent, but reminders of God’s presence keep these episodes brief, endurable, and surprisingly filled with hope. As the author guides the reader through these potentially heart-breaking situations, he has one character ask a beautiful and thought-provoking question: “How is God glorified in memory loss?” Questions such as this are a strength of the book, as the main characters are being directed continually toward the supernatural in their thoughts and through interactions with minor characters.
The book does, though, have a slow start and follows a predictable arc. Additionally, the dialogue and interactions seem contrived at times. It is, however, a pleasant and easy read which weaves a difficult subject matter together with relatable and human characters. This book could be an enjoyable diversion, or a reader could take time with it, meditating on the many substantive questions found within its pages. Either approach is suitable for this enjoyable and short work of fiction.