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The Closer We Are to Dying

by Joe Fiorito

Joe Fiorito’s The Closer We Are to Dying is a very good book about people who are far from perfect. It covers the last 20 days in his father’s life, 20 days by the bedside of Dusty Fiorito, postman, trombone player, dreamer, and – perhaps most of all – storyteller.

“When I was in my teens, I shut my ears [to his stories] because I was full of resentments and I thought he was full of shit, with his endless ribbon of myth about our origins, the whisper of old murders, the tales of those who had died before I was born.” But Fiorito has long since made his peace with the old man, accepting him, if not forgiving him completely. Now he wants to hear the stories once again.

Some of them are funny or touching: the family dog is featured on The Ed Sullivan Show, bootleggers use a boy pretending to have a toothache to escape the RCMP, an apple tree bears perfect, golden apples once and only once. Most of the stories, however, are harrowing: wives and children are beaten, fathers drink too much, young men are gassed in the Great War, Italian-Canadians are treated like dirt.

Fiorito recounts the stories well. In counterpoint to them, he also carefully observes the mechanics of dying. He paints a vivid picture of the passing of a talented, difficult, ordinary man, a man not unlike Willie Loman, Arthur Miller’s salesman, to whom “attention must be paid.” Many readers are going to shed a tear, even though some things Dusty does will enrage them.

What is missing, though, is the story of Grace, Dusty’s wife and Fiorito’s mother, who made sure the mortgage got paid and the kids had enough to eat. Fiorito tells the one about the time he saved Grace from Dusty’s wrath, but he only alludes to the role she must have played in encouraging him, her bespectacled, migraine-prone second son. Fiorito’s next project should be a book about her.