Ian Brown and I are the same age.

He is actually seven months older than I am, born 4 February 1954. But, we have definitely both crossed the great divide into what Brown calls, “the adolescence of old age.”

Ian Brown is a journalist and, by Canadians standards, a celebrity. He is a features writer for the Globe and Mail and host of a television show in Ontario. His books are published by the prestigious Random House Publisher. People fly him to New York City, the Banff School of Fine Arts, and Australia to speak and teach. His book, The Boy in the Moon: A Father’s Search for His Disabled Son won both the $40,000.00 British Columbia National Award for Canadian Nonfiction and the $25,000.00 Charles Taylor Prize for excellence in literary non-fiction.

Ian Brown SixtyMost recently, Random House has published Brown’s diary of his sixty-first year. Starting on his sixtieth birthday, Brown chronicles a year of thoughts, doubts, anxieties, fears, and little triumphs as he contemplates the inevitability of aging (“the train coming straight at us”).

Ian Brown writes honestly and courageously about the struggles and uncertainties he experiences as he ages. His prose is scintillating. He can dazzle with an unexpected turn of phrase while occasionally skating along the edge of burying his reader in an avalanche of information that must be an occupational hazard for a lifelong newspaper writer.

It is a rare gift to be able to contemplate one’s aged, now dead, father and remember “The age marks like a thousand subcutaneous gravestones.” What reader would not be charmed by Brown’s description of old age as feeling “like a dried pepper, old and flaky and hung in a corner”? What writer would not envy the ability to describe the appearance of “new age spots” that “show up like lost cousins, suddenly and in their entirety and with no warning at all”? And who would not want to be able to write the memorable line, “We all live inside our secret fears”?

Ian Brown wears two hearing aids and takes daily drops to ward of glaucoma; but physically, despite plantar fasciitis and the indignity of hemorrhoids, Ian Brown is in pretty good shape. He can walk for miles, still engage in a vigorous hike, and downhill ski all day in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, west of Calgary or at Crested Butte, Colorado. He roller-skis for 12 kilometres, swims in the ocean, and rides a road bike “fast” along the streets of Toronto.

Despite his achievements and his physical prowess, Ian Brown portrays himself in Sixty as a man riddled with insecurities, fears, uncertainties, doubts, and regrets. He obsesses about his failures, his sex life, his financial viability, and his consumption of alcohol and occasional pot smoking. He is preoccupied about how he looks and his bald spot (“my fringe, and my hair-cutter’s efforts to maximize what’s left”). He suffers from doubts about his ability as a parent, the state of his marriage, and his relationships with his extended family and friends and the women he meets in casual encounters.

In his book, Brown confronts death (“the final implosion”); he worries about the frailty of the flesh, and frets endlessly about the future. All of this is, I suppose, to be expected in a book that reflects a year in the life of a man who has clearly passed the half-way point in his journey through this physical realm.

It is not that I begrudge Mr. Brown his existential angst. Goodness knows, I have enough regrets, fears, and insecurities of my own. When it comes to neuroses I am pretty sure I could match Ian Brown on most days.

But the thing I find stunning in Brown’s book is that, in an extended meditation on death, the frailty of the human condition, and the meaning of life, there is an almost complete absence of any gesture towards mystery or transcendence. The most frequent nod Brown gives to any sense of the divine is when he uses the words God, Christ or Jesus as expletives. His awareness of the transience of life and his regrets about the past, do not appear to have inclined Mr. Brown in the slightest to open to the possibility of some realm of meaning and reality beyond the meager crumbs of his worldly achievements and the hope of a few more productive years.

Brown’s diary entries conclude not long after Christmas 2014 which he spent skiing with family at Crested Butte, Colorado. His one Christmas entry reads:

December 24 – More skiing. Tim [Ian’s brother] is really in bed now. Apparently half an ounce of satvia pop [marijuana] was too much.

That is the total of Ian Brown’s reflections on Christmas. His next entry is January 1, 2015 “Back in Toronto,” reflecting on “a very good party” he and his wife attended on New Year’s Eve

In his November 9 entry, Ian Brown recounts interviewing comedian John Cleese who is in Toronto as part of a tour promoting his autobiography So, Anyway… He describes Cleese as “a good storyteller,” but then goes on without any apparent sense of irony to say that Cleese,

doesn’t exactly linger in search of greater meaning in the book.

This may be the most apt assessment of Ian Brown’s own book any reviewer could offer.

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