The Five Wishes of Mr. Murray McBride by Joe Siple is a heartfelt story of two extremely different individuals who have one thing in common; death is staring them in the face. Siple pairs a one-hundred-year-old, Mr. McBride with a young boy one-tenth his age to face death together. McBride, still melancholy from the recent death of his wife, Jenny of 80 years, is also struggling with pangs of guilt for having been not as close to his children and grandchildren as he felt he should have been. After lamenting his feeling to his Doctor, the physician advises him to take up a hobby, to do something with his remaining days that will be fulfilling and uplifting.
Siple tells his story through the voice of his one-hundred-year-old protagonist, Murry McBride. Throughout the story Murry ruminates on the nature of his existence, often reminiscing about when he was young, and how the world was a place he loved and understood. The book has a feel that inevitably reminded me of The Notebook or Water for Elephants. Murray who was once a professional baseball player finds his declining agility and age very depressing. He has outlived his family and his friends and feels his life’s journey has taken him to an alien world that is terribly confusing. He has a bad knee, and it hurts him to move and when he sees how quickly his grandson moves he feels pangs of jealousy that he’s no longer capable of doing the same. In short, he has little interest in continuing on in his life.
Central to the story is when Murry meets Jason Cashman, a young 10-year-old boy at the local children’s hospital "Heart Ward." Jason has a dysfunctional heart and has been given a 6-month prognosis. In Murry ’s meeting with Jason, he accidentally comes in possession of Jason’s wish list of things he hopes to accomplish before he dies. This discovery awakens a part of Murray and he feels that he wants to help Jason accomplish these wishes before he dies. They are not simple wishes; he wants to kiss a girl, he wants to find a boyfriend for his mom, he wants to perform real magic, he wants to hit a home run in a major league baseball stadium, and he wants to be a superhero. This discovery of the list sets the stage for the rest of the book.
In a span of a few minutes, Murray decides to help the boy try to accomplish everything on this list before he dies. It is interesting how both Jason and Murray view death. Both see it as inescapable, one with wonder and the other with resignation. Murry ’s colorful descriptions of his young rambunctious Jason adds a bit of levity to a book that’s central theme is facing death.
Jason’s illness and his imminent death causes Murry to question his longstanding Catholic faith in what he perceives as God’s injustice to saddle a boy of 10 with a terminal disease.
Since both of the main characters are at death's door, it seems they have a devil may care attitude as Murray and Jason set about to attempt to complete all the wishes on the list. Some of the actions orchestrated by Murry to help Jason reach his goals are questionable methods but under the circumstances the risk are understandable. The lengths Murray McBride goes to achieve the dreams of the dying child are amazing, and maybe even some would say criminal.
This neatly wrapped up story covers a contrast between youthful and the elderly’s views on death and our physical fragility and our astonishing emotional resilience in the face of life’s end. It’s a perplexing story that keeps you wondering if this odd couple can accomplish their bucket list before that final exhaled breath occurs or will a miracle happen that will commute Jason’s death sentence. So keep an open mind and a box of tissues nearby as you read Joe Siple’s "The Five Wishes of Mr. Murray McBride."