As a young man, Diver saved another man not just from drowning, but also from a crocodile attack. Helping him on the beach, Diver learned the man’s name was Arrow and that, like Diver, he was a man who loved men. Unfortunately, Diver’s people would not allow two men to be together. Diver could stay on the island alone, as long as he agreed to give up Arrow and take on the mantle of the island’s shaman. Diver was not satisfied with the life of a civil servant without Arrow, and the couple decided to leave. But after Arrow angered the people from Diver’s village, he and Diver had to make a hasty escape, one that left Diver cursed to live as the Ancient One, a man who would never age and never die.
Centuries, millennia later, Diver now goes by Oscar Flowers–an identity he shares with the real Oscar Flowers and which serves as a matter of convenience. But the problem for Oscar is that he never ages. This fact becomes crystal clear after Oscar suffers a car accident in Belize and the doctor asks deeply probing questions about Oscar’s origins and his strange blood rich with special stem cells. With the help of Miguel and of Karen, two of the only people who know the truth of Oscar’s prehistoric origins, he manages to escape to America so he can find a potential new identity. A university student named Radhi is a promising choice, given how strikingly similar he is to Oscar in appearance. Not all is well, however, when Radhi refuses to accept the truth about Oscar or even a business deal with him. Worse yet, when friends fall ill, they turn to the same doctor who poses a great threat to Oscar’s freedom.
Call Me Methuselah is a paranormal-adjacent type epic romance from author R.G. Hendrickson. If any of my synopsis sounded appealing, I urge you to check out the official blurb as the official description captures a lot of the energy of the book. This is like two stories rolled into one. There is Oscar’s story told in the present day (and often past tense), then there is Diver’s story (often told in present tense), both rolled into the same book. I loved the juxtaposition of ancient history being told as a first-person account (which, alright, it is…but from tens of thousands of years after the fact), while the present day conforms to typical writing conventions. Both of these devices are touched on briefly in the story itself, which I thought was delightful self awareness from a narrator who has lived a very long time. Structurally, the two storylines are folded into each other thanks to Oscar’s insatiable need to write as he documents what is, basically, his origin story.
By and large, each chapter starts with a bit of the thread regarding Oscar in the present day. The chapters tend to revolve around how much more difficult it is for him to exist in a digital world. I think they also show how living for so long gives him deep insight into people’s motives and a dangerous capacity to forgive the people who should be his friends. Before long, we typically slip back into the life of Diver. These parts focus on how he meets Arrow, and then their long and arduous journey trying to find a home for themselves among a series of unconnected islands in a giant, crocodile-infested lake. Part of the struggle is tangentially related to the fact that they are men who love each other. The bigger issue, one that deeply affects both Arrow and Diver, is how different islands have different cultural values. Diver’s birth island, for example, only allows the women to remain on the island–all men born there apart from the shamen must leave and only those who come from other islands and marry a girl may stay. The island they journey to afterwards is ruled by three elders who seem interested only in maintaining power through fear, despite the meagre living every one must endure. The next island they discover is the reverse of Diver’s birth island, with the exception that men can marry men and stay…as long as one of the men is a native born son. All the while, it becomes subtly but increasingly clear that Diver is not aging, while Arrow does.
One of the most endearing parts of Diver is how, throughout the entirety of his time with Arrow, he never sees him as unfit to love. Many age-gap or mortal/immortal themes try to address the “one of you will age and die” and “you won’t love me when I’m old.” That was not the case here. It takes time for Diver to even realize he is cursed. He assumes the grey hairs growing on Arrow’s head grow on his own. He assumes the wrinkles that appear on Arrow’s face appear on his own. But one look into Arrow’s eyes and all that melts away. None of which is to say Diver and Arrow never have disagreements–they do, and often. But I just loved how these two appreciated what they had when he had it. And, when Oscar reflects on his identity as Diver, he is filled with bittersweetness. He cherishes the memories and wishes he never quarreled, though by all accounts the pair seem to have had a happy (if at times dangerous and hard) life together. I also like how their love persists despite how deeply their world views divide their opinions on what is right.
Overall, I thought this was a stunning read. The present-day Oscar introduced an enigma character with the fantastical condition of having been made immortal. To cope, Oscar turns to writing about his past, which gives up a full account of how Oscar became immortal and a story of love and survival in the stone age. There is a lot of excitement as Diver’s story details harrowing journeys across a seemingly endless lake, and again with Oscar as he tries to remain free while his only friend/associates turn to (or turn on?) him with needs of their own. I would recommend this story to anyone who enjoys thoughtful, thorough stories with incredibly endearing, imperfect, human characters.