Half the Kingdom


New York Times Notable Book 2013

"No one writes like Segal — her glittering intelligence, her piercing wit, and her dazzling insights into manners and mores, are a profound pleasure. From first to last I loved this wise and irreverent novel." Margot Livesey

"I always feel in her work such a sense of toughness and humor…. Her writing is sad and funny, and that makes it more ...

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Half the Kingdom: A Novel

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New York Times Notable Book 2013

"No one writes like Segal — her glittering intelligence, her piercing wit, and her dazzling insights into manners and mores, are a profound pleasure. From first to last I loved this wise and irreverent novel." Margot Livesey

"I always feel in her work such a sense of toughness and humor…. Her writing is sad and funny, and that makes it more of both." Jennifer Egan

“Lore Segal is a marvelous and fearless writer.  No subject is too hard, too absurd, or too painful  for her wise, peculiar and brilliant fiction.” —Lily Tuck

The renowned New Yorker writer and Pulitzer Prize finalist Lore Segal—whom The New York Times declared "closer than anyone to writing the Great American Novel"—delivers a hilarious, poignant and profoundly moving tale of living, loving and aging in America today

At Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, doctors have noticed a marked uptick in Alzheimer's patients. People who seemed perfectly lucid just a day earlier suddenly show signs of advanced dementia. Is it just normal aging, or an epidemic? Is it a coincidence, or a secret terrorist plot?

In the looking-glass world of Half the Kingdom—where terrorist paranoia and end-of-the-world hysteria mask deeper fears of mortality; where parents' and their grown children's feelings vacillate between frustration and tenderness; and where the broken medical system leads one character to quip, "Kafka wrote slice-of-life fiction"—all is familiar and yet slightly askew.

Lore Segal masterfully interweaves her characters' lives—lives that, for good or for ill, all converge in Cedar's ER—into a funny, tragic, and tender portrait of how we live today.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Patricia T. O'Conner
Fans of Segal's fiction should feel right at home in this darkly comic novel. For decades, an ever-shifting circle of characters has populated her New Yorker stories, as well as longer works like Other People's Houses, Her First American and Shakespeare's Kitchen. Now some of these characters are back and, inevitably, they've grown old…In this novel, the young are dull and clueless, but the elderly, despite their infirmities, are brilliant. Even demented, they make more sense than the absurd world they've stumbled into.
Publishers Weekly
The 85-year-old Lore Segal’s latest offering is a slim novel haunted by a specter worse than death: the loss of one’s mind. Joe Bernstine is the retired director of the Concordance Center, a think tank devoted to eschatology. As Joe’s own personal end draws near, he assembles an eclectic team of family and associates for one final project, The Compendium of End-of-World Scenarios, an encyclopedic catalogue of potential doom. Yet, as his team gets drawn into assisting Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in dealing with its recent rash of “copycat Alzheimer’s” (which has mysteriously struck all of the 62-plus patients who entered its ER with debilitating dementia), their own problems manifest. Joe has his family and associates enter the hospital in an attempt to decipher the mystery from within. The novel is structured in short sections, each titled after the character it follows, such as “Ida Farkasz” or “Francis Rhinelander,” and, aside from one mention of 9/11, it seems as if the book was written in the 1970s and preserved in amber. By weaving together the multiple narratives of those suffering from and fighting the epidemic, Segal’s story is both a disjointed and comprehensive tableau of the inevitable cruelty of mortality, or as one character puts it, “the Arbus Factor of old age.” (Oct.)
From the Publisher
"No one writes like Segal — her glittering intelligence, her piercing wit, and her dazzling insights into manners and mores, are a profound pleasure. From first to last I loved this wise and irreverent novel." —Margot Livesey

"I always feel in her work such a sense of toughness and humor…. Her writing is sad and funny, and that makes it more of both." —Jennifer Egan

"If America had anything resembling a wise elder, or cared to, it would be Lore Segal, and Half the Kingdom would be her moving, blackly-comic revelation." —Shalom Auslander

"I have never read such an astonishing book about old age. It’s remarkable. This woman is one of the best writers I’ve ever had the privilege of reading." —Ayelet Waldman

"Lore Segal may have come closer than anyone to writing The Great American Novel." —The New York Times

"...rare insight into the human character that is at once humbling and shamelessly enjoyable to behold. " —Publishers Weekly

"One of the rare writers who combines art, eccentricity, honesty, and wisdom...." —Chicago Tribune

"Every now and then a piece of work bursts the bounds of its own conventions ... announcing the existence in our midst of a genuine writer." —The Nation

"A voice ... unlike any other I had ever known." —Cynthia Ozick

"Outdistances our contemporary expectations of fiction ... to maintain a lasting place not only in American literature but in that of the world." —Stanley Crouch

Kirkus Reviews
Is dementia catching? The possibility sends one emergency room into a tizzy in Segal's latest, a surreal black comedy. It's Miriam Haddad, an ER doctor, who lets the cat out of the bag. She confides to Joe Bernstine, a regular patient, that they're tracking "all the sixty-two-pluses who go around the bend." Smiling Joe is unfazed. Nothing fazes Joe, not even the fact that he's terminal. He's the retired director of a think tank that figured prominently in Segal's previous novel, Shakespeare's Kitchen (2007), and is busy cataloging, in his small Manhattan office, end-of-the-world scenarios. His staff consists of family and friends, most notably Lucy, a 75-year-old poet with emphysema. It's she who notices the body hurtling past the window. One of the black dressmakers whose space they acquired has committed suicide after taking her sister to the same New York hospital ER where Joe is a frequent visitor. Soon, Joe's outfit is working with Dr. Haddad to investigate the staggering surge in Alzheimer's cases. Joe has hinted that undefined "entities" may be using the ER to create an epidemic. Stated that baldly, it sounds pretty silly, but then, this is not a conventional medical-disaster novel, but a wild flight, complete with loops, tangents and quizzical asides. What follows is a parade of new intakes, all about to lose their minds. Observing them unofficially is Lucy, who is being driven crazy herself by the refusal of a magazine to pass judgment on a months-old submission. Back to Dr. Haddad, who, as the hospital's spokesperson, declares "[t]here is no emergency room...that is not liable to raise the stress level to one that can cause temporary dementia." That exposes Segal's debunking of the Byzantine bureaucracy of the American hospital, but it does not prepare readers for the dark ending: a tableau of the demented, all stark naked, and Joe on his deathbed. A sassy circumnavigation of hospital culture and mortality.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781612193021
  • Publisher: Melville House Publishing
  • Publication date: 10/1/2013
  • Pages: 176
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

LORE SEGAL is the author of the novels Lucinella, Other People's Houses, Her First American and the story collection Shakespeare's Kitchen, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. She is the recipient of an American Academy and the Institutes of Arts and Letters award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an O'Henry Award and the Harold U. Ribalow Prize. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Harper's Magazine, The New Republic and other publications. At eighty-five years old, Segal lives and writes in New York City.

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