Joseph Parmigian, a dying cancer patient in his sixties. He is of Armenian background, is married, and owns a fruit and vegetable store in Greenwich Village. He is still hungry for experience and knowledge. An opinionated smart aleck who, with brass, sarcasm, and broad humor, smashes through the reserved shell of Landau, a fellow patient in a New York City hospital. Parmigian, prodding and provoking, demands that Landau reveal his dreams. Parmigian has never felt settled or satisfied with life, and his wacky exuberance is balanced by a bleak vision of the ultimate meaninglessness of things and contradictory subcurrents, typified by his revelation of “the best time to commit suicide, when you’re in a good mood.” In the end, though, it is not so much this out-of-place, deathbed Rabelaisianism that inspires Landau to break his reticence but Parmigian’s confession that he is at the end of his tether in trying to face up to his approaching death.
Richard Landau, a man in his mid-forties who is in the hospital for “exploratory” surgery. He is a Jewish investment adviser who recommends art and antiques to wealthy clients; he is married, with two daughters. He is vaguely discontented with the whirl of modern life and seeks solace in the eternal verities as they are offered by fine china and antique furniture. He is quietly self-possessed, alternately tantalized and scandalized by...
(The entire section is 408 words.)