If author David Shields is a glass-half-empty guy, his 90-year-old father is the glass-half-full type. He states as much in an opening passage, titled "Letter to my Father," "Accept death, I always seem to be saying. Accept life, is his entirely understandable reply." In this way both father and son are a part of the same coin, just philosophically residing on opposite sides. This entwining of perspectives is further explored in Shields's ninth novel, The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead, a truly fun read that progresses from conception to death, each chapter cycling through medical fun facts, philosophical ponderings, history, and celebrity quotes from Shakespeare to Lyndon Johnson to Mickey Rooney. Interspersed throughout are personal anecdotes, including some touching on memorable moments in Shields's life, as well as those relating to his daughter and his father, a man who at 90 continues to confound his son with his vivacity for life, health, and sexual intercourse. Based on other reviews I have read, some passages may mildly scandalize readers (at one point he frankly discusses the length of his genitalia vs. his father's), but the intentions are really anything but inflammatory, rather simply honest. Perhaps accepting death isn't so glass-half-empty after all; Shields sounds awestruck by death in a later chapter, exclaiming, "Aging followed by death is the price we pay for immortality of our genes. You find this information soul-killing; I find it thrilling, liberating. Life, in my view, is simple, tragic, and eerily beautiful."
Tue., March 18, 7:30 p.m., 2008