Title:  "Live Like You Were Dying"
Author:  Michael Morris
Publisher:  Westbow

What if? What if the doctor's diagnosis reveals you have only a year to live? Or six months? How do you live if you're dying? Well, you can get a few good pointers from Nathan Bishop. Go sky diving. Go mountain climbing. Ride a bull named Fumanchu. Speak sweeter. Love deeper. Give forgiveness.

Bishop is a stellar success in his career but a faltering failure in family relationships. And fortunately, he's fiction – though many of us are probably too much like him. He is the creation of author Michael Morris in "Live Like You Were Dying: A Story About Living" (Westbow, 2004), the best short novel I've read in a long time. And I read a lot of fiction – 40-50 novels a year.

When Bishop visits the doctor after an accident on the job, he learns he has a life-threatening illness. That kind of news makes a man look at life a little differently.

Thoughts of mortality have been taking more of my time than I'd like lately. The insurance representative visited our offices recently to offer a policy that promises cash pay-outs to victims of cancer, stroke or heart attack – or to their survivors. Having just turned 60, I did not find my spirits lifted by the mini-seminar on the ailments of aging.

Nonetheless, one good thing came out of the session: He reminded me of "Live Like You Were Dying."

If you're thinking, "That sounds like a country song I've heard!" you're right on target. Tim McGraw sang it; Craig Wiseman and Tim Nichols wrote the song. Morris took the challenge from Westbow Press to give full-story treatment to the theme.

In the opening pages of "Live Like You Were Dying," Morris establishes the work-work-work attitude of Nathan Bishop. Bishop reveals his motivation: "Sweat and long hours had paved the way for success, but the toll I'd paid could not be measured in dollars and cents. The smell of money turned out to be an axis between my soul and my family."

After his diagnosis, Bishop makes some decisions that bring life back into his family, not just wife and young daughter, but extended family as well. His example can be a lesson for the rest of us, even if we don't have a terminal illness – yet. We don't know how long we have to live, and "Live Like You Were Dying" dares us to maximize our time.

It's a story with appeal for all ages, male and female. It doesn't hurt that Morris is simply a downright gifted story-teller. It doesn't hurt that he's been compared by the Washington Post to Harper Lee, Mark Twain and  Flannery O'Connor. It doesn't hurt that he made a big splash with his first novel, "A Place Called Wiregrass," which won the 2003 Catherine Marshall Foundation's Christy Award for Best First Novel in Christian fiction.

Pretty powerful stuff for a new kid on the block, but the Birmingham, Alabama, resident still has his feet planted firmly on the ground.

"Growing up in a small town in North Florida, I always thought that writers lived in New York or Paris," Morris said. "And if writers were from the South they were eccentric alcoholics who lived in rundown mansions. That was really my worldview at the time. My mother and I had fled an abusive household and lived in a trailer. So I never thought that writing was in the realm of possibilities for me."

But he's certainly in the center ring now, creating stories that will endear him to readers, establish him among the top tale-tellers in contemporary fiction, and challenge us to live. Really live. We couldn't ask much more.


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