In an intricate examination of the human experience, Paul Harding explores themes of life, death, and relationships—especially those between fathers and sons. Death is imminent for the central character, George Crosby, and as he lies on his hospital bed, memories of his life and relationships assail him in a kaleidoscope of images whose order he cannot control. George had always thought that at the end of his life, he would have a chance to take stock of his time on earth, but what he discovers is that "to look at his life...(is) to witness a shifting mass, the tiles of a mosaic spinning, swirling...familiar elements...independent...of his will, showing him a different self every time he (tries) to make an assessment." This idea that life is ultimately a mystery beyond the understanding of man recurs throughout the narrative, and applies even to that most basic element of life, the identity of the individual. George's father Howard muses on this dilemma, marveling that "a move of the head, a step to the left or right, and we change from wise, decent, loyal people to conceited fools." Howard recognizes that with "the slightest difference of perspective...our place in (the world) change(s) infinitely;" Howard himself is "a tinker...a epileptic...a fugitive." The characters find it impossible to define the essence of their lives. Like a will-o'-the-wisp, it is impossible to pin down, "an elusive vision," hovering just beyond the ability of consciousness to grasp it. It is a reality of living that man is "not at ease in this world," creating an ache in the heart which, combined paradoxically with the confusion in the soul "means that you are still alive, still human, and still open to the beauty of the world." If the ache in the soul becomes too much to bear, there is comfort in knowing that there will be an end to it in death.

In the context of this shifting reality, death also has many facets. In addition to being a release from the cares of the world, it is a separation from the physical. The organs of the body become useless, and, in George's case, as he approaches his demise, he finds that he is "nearly a ghost." With this gradual loss of substance, physical comforts become meaningless; living becomes a...

(The entire section is 908 words.)