A disillusioned, recently dumped 30 something going back home to help care for a parent but ending up healing themselves in the process is not a new plot line. Dealing with the pain and frustration of watching someone you love deteriorate from Alzheimer’s isn’t either. This little book tackles both without becoming overly melodramatic.
At the request of her mother, Ruth moves back to Los Angeles from San Francisco in order to help her care for her father, who is quickly succumbing to dementia. Mourning an abrupt break up with her fiance, Ruth escapes to the comfort of her childhood home and friends and sets up shop as her father’s companion.
The story is told in a series of journal entries. Some are written in the present by Ruth, and others are quotes from a journal that her father kept of things that Ruth did and said as a child that amused or endeared him.
It’s a book about history. Both Ruth and her father journal their histories. Her father is a former history professor and Ruth is a sonogram technician who reveals to parents the first look at their children; a history not yet lived. It’s also about how a shared history can be perceived and remembered different ways. Ruth has fond memories of her father, but her younger brother Linus, who lived at home years after Ruth left for college, resents his father’s drinking and his treatment of their mother.
What imperfect carriers of love we are, and what imperfect givers. That the reasons we can care for one another can have nothing to do with the person cared for. That it has only to do with who we were around that person – – what we felt about that person.
Kong’s writing is very conversational but melancholy. Its tone is almost the equivalent of asking a friend how they are doing and they answer only “Ok.” If it was a longer book, I think that could become tiresome, but it works here. It’s just a peek at how this family deals with crisis and learns to negotiate what is happening and what will happen. More than a book about Alzheimer’s, it’s a book about history and memory within complex family relationships.