Dying Words

Longtime CN&R readers may recognize the author’s name. He was a co-founder of the paper and early on one of its more stellar reporters and editors. He moved to San Francisco and eventually took a job with the Chronicle, where he worked for 20 years, five of them as city editor, before retiring in 2009. Along the way he wrote two atmospheric redneck-noir novels, Blood Moon and Kingdom Road, and Horace Bristol: An American View, a biography of a legendary LIFE magazine photographer. For his latest, Conner taps into his experiences at the Chronicle, creating a flock of odd ducks inhabiting the far reaches of the newsroom, among them his central character, Graydon Hubbell. Hubbell is an aging former city hall reporter who for medical reasons has moved to the obituaries desk, a job he loves because he sees writing obits as a kind of art form. When he learns he’s dying from cancer, his solitary, ordered life begins first to unravel and then to take on new form as he perforce invites others—like his neighbor, the kind-hearted aging hippie Lydia Gifford—into it. Written in a warm, lucid style and rich with quiet humor and affection, this novel about dying is a pleasure to read and, in the end, quite joyful.