For the past eleven years, Graydon Hubbell, an aging reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, has been assigned to write obituaries, working in a corner of the newsroom that has long been referred to as Section Eight, an oblique reference to the section of the U.S. military code that provides for a discharge on the grounds of insanity. For as long as anyone can remember, Section Eight has been occupied by a group of exceedingly eccentric and often impolitic reporters, and Hubbell and his colleagues certainly uphold that tradition.
Like most of his colleagues, Hubbell initially regarded writing obituaries as a distinctly morbid assignment made all the more unpleasant by having to deal with the grieving families of the deceased. But over time he has come to appreciate the obituary as both a staple of daily journalism and an art form in its own right, and he now likes to think that he has become as capable of writing a final salute to the rich and powerful as of composing a simple farewell for the eccentric and the notorious.
Then Hubbell learns that he is dying. He has been diagnosed with an insidious form of blood cancer that frequently strikes the elderly, in many cases, like Hubbell's, presenting no symptoms until it is essentially too late to offer any treatment. Confiding only in his colleagues in Section Eight, and his neighbor, Lydia Gifford, a free spirit and former flower child, Hubbell is determined to work at the newspaper as long as he possibly can. But as his disease progresses, and as his career comes apart through a series of increasingly absurd mistakes, mishaps and confrontations, Hubbell is forced to come to terms with the fact that his own life is coming to an end.
Written with humor and pathos, “Dying Words” is a novel about mortality and remembrance, the story of an aging newspaper reporter less afraid of dying than of being forgotten.