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Back in the early 1990s, author Chris Eagle’s father ended up in a particularly understaffed assisted living facility in Delaware County, and kept a diary to pass the time amid a strange and unique cast of characters. Eagle was inspired by his late father’s diaries to write a novel, published last May, called Dwell Here and Prosper. A Delco native who has lived all over, he now works as a professor of human health at Emory University in Atlanta.
The novel unfolds through the eyes of Dick, Eagle’s father, after he suffers a stroke and ends up unable to care for himself. He’s placed in a facility, somewhere in the same precincts of southern Delaware County that also inspired the HBO series Mare of Easttown.
Dwell Here and Prosper does meander a bit at times, but it ends up in a place of true poignancy. It also demonstrates the pitfalls of the bottom end of the American health care system, without getting particularly preachy about it.
The ad copy compares this novel to Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (and implicitly, the subsequent movie adaptation), a similarity that occurred to me on my own, although this story is more about the day-to-day drudgery of being in that sort of place. It’s not especially plot-driven, but rather focused on its characters.
But one thing the novel certainly isn’t short on is authenticity, either of the local or of the period variety.
It's set between 1993 and 1996, which places it against the backdrop of various phases of the O.J. Simpson murder trial. There are also descriptions of different sports seasons of local teams, which the characters are watching in the facility in between episodes of Jeopardy and Columbo.
And then there’s the plentiful sports references.
We’re treated to a visceral play-by-play of a specific Eagles loss in 1994 that ended with a missed field goal (I believe it’s this game), and we hear all kinds of names from the distant Eagles past like Rich Kotite, Bubby Brister, and Mike Mamula. There are Phillies references too, including a lot of angst about the 1994 strike that wiped out the World Series.
The book really gets the point across that, until relatively recently—Super Bowl LII in 2018 is the clear demarcation point—Philadelphia sports were synonymous with heartache and repeated Sisyphean failure. It’s the sort of thing that those with Sisyphean lives could relate to, day after day.
There are other Philly/Delco touches, whether specific locations or nods to local history, although for some reason Eagle spells the convenience store’s name as “WaWa.” But capitalized second “W” or not, Dwell Here and Prosper is a fine, authentic debut novel about the Philly and Delco of the past.
What, When, Where
Dwell Here and Prosper. By Chris Eagle. Tortoise Books, May 23, 2023. 294 pages, paperback; $18.99. Get it here.
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