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Joey Sanchez
Dying To End It
Joey Sanchez, author
When Frank’s wife of many years is killed in a car accident and he is left badly injured, he quickly grows tired of life. No longer wishing to be a burden on his daughters who are missing out on their own lives by having to care for him, he hatches a plan. Heading off out onto the mean streets of New York, the city he grew up in, Frank decides that he will find a way to end his life there without resorting to the sin of taking it himself. However, his plans are thrown into confusion when he bumps into an old friend, Carlo. In years gone by Frank had helped Carlo, who was part of the Mafia, with fraudulent insurance claims but had turned his back on a life of crime, leading to Carlo being demoted by his bosses. Now, the two old friends catch up on past times as Frank’s plans for his final hours slowly draw closer. But Carlo has a dark secret that he has kept from Frank. The resentment he had been carrying after being betrayed by his friend had been allowed to fester and boil to the surface, and now he is about to reveal the full shocking truth of his actions to him. How will Frank react? Will he still be able to find a way to end his life on his terms? Or is that nagging feeling at the back of his mind about to show him something terrifying?
Sanchez’s debut spins a tender, surprising story of grief and guilt as Frank Vitale, in his sixties, loses his wife in a car crash, spends a year in a hospital bed, and then, ostensibly to spare his adult daughters the responsibility of caring for him, decides it’s time for him to end his life. But Frank, a Catholic who once worked at one of New York City’s biggest insurance firms, understands the religious and legal implications of suicide, both for his soul and for the life insurance claim that would help out his family. So, he settles on a surprising means of ending his life: he’ll return to New York, where he was raised, and revisit his old stomping grounds until somehow, inevitably, the city will kill him.

New York, though, has a way of surprising people, and Sanchez’s story turns Frank’s assumptions about crime and changing neighborhoods on their head as soon as he hits Coney Island. The new immigrant and ethnic populations he encounters are just people, living their lives. When a young man makes a crack about his suit—“Damn old man, you on your way to church or something?”—Frank’s wise-guy response inspires incredulity rather than violence: “Nah, I went to see your mother. She wants me to look nice for her.” The implication is clear: the city revitalizes something in Frank, so much so that when he does face a deadly situation he endeavors to rescue a friend rather than seize the chance to end it all.

That friend, Carlo Sanguinetti, encounters Frank by seeming happenstance, and then the two pass time together in amusing misadventures, as they discuss their pasts, the changing city, belief in God, and Frank’s guilt over not always having been the husband that his wife, Bianca, deserved. The talk is charming, alternately funny, and wise. Though the novel is low-key in its everyday humanity, Sanchez springs a jolting but unlikely late twist, connecting Frank’s presence to the tragedy from which he’s recovering.

Takeaway: New York revitalizes a widower in this tender, conversational novel.

Comparable Titles: Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Jacob M. Appel’s Millard Salter’s Last Day.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: NA
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A-