Chris Eagle plans several area appearances in connection with his new book “Dwell Here and Prosper.”
347 S. 13th St.
Signing event 6 to 8 p.m.
(Ages 21 and older)
Off the Rail
109 W. State St.
Launch party 2 to 5 p.m.
WEST CHESTER, PA.
Baldwin’s Book Barn
865 Lenape Road.
Signing event 2 to 4 p.m.
“Dwell Here and Prosper,” the debut novel by Delaware County native Chris Eagle, takes readers back to the Philadelphia suburbs of the 1990s while painting an unﬂ inching portrait of the harrowing reality of the world of privatized eldercare.
The book was inspired by the diaries his late father Dick Eagle kept while moving between four different nursing homes (which shall remain nameless) in and around Delaware County. Echoes of Ken Kesey’s seminal work “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” are unmistakable, but Eagle also lays bare the realities of the nation’s broken eldercare system, particularly among those who have no voice regarding where they spend their ﬁnal years.
While the father’s diaries document the eccentricities of the people he met, his son uses their stories to illuminate the fallout from the closure of state mental hospitals and the impact that privatizing mental health care has on the mentally ill.
It’s easy to see the similarities between Dick Eagle and Kesey’s Chief Bromden in “Cuckoo’s Nest” as they describe institutional life that is by turns comedic, disturbing and heartbreaking. Chief Bromden’s descriptions were sometimes hallucinatory, because, after all, he was a diagnosed schizophrenic.
But Dick Eagle is unquestionably of sound mind. The only thing broken is his body, hobbled by the stroke that landed him in this situation in the ﬁrst place.
In his introduction to “Dwell Here,” the author describes his father’s eye-opening arrival at one of a series of nursing facilities:
“The place [his social worker] sent him to was shockingly ﬁlthy, disorganized, full of middle-aged schizophrenics, alcoholics, and addicts. One look around the yard told me Dad was the oldest person there. I couldn’t have put things in these terms at the time, but what I was witnessing ﬁrst-hand from the second we got out of the car was the downside of the anti-psychiatry movement. For all its triumphalism over the closures of state mental hospitals, a victory I mostly agree with, we’ve never given much thought in this country to what should have replaced them.”
Determined to regain his independence after the stroke, Dick walks the grounds with his quad cane. But when recovery never comes, Dick ﬁnds purpose in ﬂy-on-the-wall observations of the other fellow residents, chronicling their odd obsessions and their nasty arguments, their breakdowns, drunken debaucheries and their sexual escapades.
Echoes of Ken Kesey’s seminal work “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” are unmistakable, but Eagle also lays bare the realities of the nation’s broken eldercare system, particularly among those who have no voice regarding where they spend their final years.
He meets memorable outcasts including a shady jokester who insists he worked for the FBI, a schizophrenic Catholic who roams local cemeteries at
night in search of the Virgin Mary, a 26-year-old whose teeth mysteriously fell out, and a middle-aged alcoholic who prostitutes herself to other residents for booze and cigarettes. Because Dick Eagle was a lifelong Philadelphia sports fan, the book is ﬁlled with nostalgic Philly sports history such as the disastrous draftings of Mike Mamula and Shawn Bradley, the 1993 pennant and the 1994 baseball strike, and Rich Kotite’s last season as Eagles coach with its 7-2 start and 0-7 ﬁnish.
Originally from Delaware County, the author has lived in Berkeley, Paris, Antwerp, Pasadena, Sydney, Berlin, Chicago, and now Atlanta, where he teaches Health Humanities at Emory University. He is currently at work on a short story collection set in Delco.