Here's another novel that crawls into the mind of someone whose life is quickly receding (for mention of two others, see this post). Like Samantha Harvey's The Wilderness, Susan Minot's Evening is a literary novel, which means that people who like to know exactly what is going on, and in what order, will find it a struggle (at times I wished I'd been taking notes). But then the dying protagonist, Ann Lord, is also struggling with memories and meaning, so the novel's difficulties are appropriate.
The setting is Cambridge, Massachusetts, where 65-year-old Ann is so near to dying of cancer that her children and friends are gathering around her bedside. Her entire life is not exactly passing before her, but she is reviewing a memorable weekend in Maine that happened 40 years earlier and how its events affected the rest of her life, especially her relationships with a series of men. That's enough of a review for now, except to mention that chapter 12, "The Wedding Night" (pages 189-201), is amazingly beautiful erotic writing with hardly a mention of body parts.
And I should probably also add that there is nothing redemptive in this novel.
The book has been turned into a star-studded movie starring Claire Danes, Glenn Close, Vanessa Redgrave (and her late daughter, Natasha Richardson), and Meryl Streep (and her daughter, Mamie Gummer)--to name only a few of its high-octane actors. Nevertheless, the movie got terrible reviews (read more about it here). Manohla Dargis of the New York Times wrote, "Stuffed with actors of variable talent, burdened with false, labored dialogue and distinguished by a florid visual style better suited to fairy tales and greeting cards, this miscalculation underlines what can happen when certain literary works meet the bottom line of the movies."
The film isn't even a good shortcut: its stories and characters are so different from those in the novel that you might as well just start with the actual book. Except for one thing: Vanessa Redgrave is Ann Lord.