Monday, July 03, 2017

We're repeating the past instead of letting it go : GOODBYE, VITAMIN.

Goodbye, VitaminGoodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After a rough breakup with her fiance, Ruth reluctantly accepts her mother's request to return home and help care for her father, Howard, who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Once home, Ruth realizes that Howard--an extremely well-respected professor of history--has his good days and bad days, while her mother has stopped cooking (blaming the aluminum in cookware for Howard's illness). Floundering at first, Ruth eventually steps up, cooking for her family, helping her father, and generally trying to regain her footing. But even she cannot ignore that her father's condition is worsening.

This is an interesting novel, told in short bits and pieces, as if Ruth is talking to her father and describing their days. It covers one year after she comes to stay and comes across almost as if a diary, with a very conversational tone (interspersed with her random thoughts). It's oddly compelling and often humorous, despite the serious subject matter. Occasionally, we get a few snippets from a journal Ruth's father kept during her childhood, chronicling funny things she did or said as a child.

As for Ruth, there's a lightness to many of her stories and observations, but also a sadness: she's watching her beloved, intelligent father fall prey to Alzheimer's; there is a darkness as well, as she grapples with finding out imperfections about her parents' marriage and life. The character list is limited, but all we need, including Ruth's younger brother, Linus; Howard's former teaching assistant, Theo; and a few of Ruth's friends. Ruth comes across as a very real person: she doesn't have it all together, but that's okay. A few pieces of the overall story path are predictable, but do not detract from your overall enjoyment of the book.

The few portions we get from Howard's journal regarding young Ruth are amazing: they humanize him and definitely capture parenthood perfectly. They also so well illustrate how Ruth and Howard are slowly switching roles from child to parent, as Ruth almost begins to have similar observations about her own failing father. The way Khong depicts the sadness and poignancy in these moments is just beautiful and brilliant.

In the end, this is a different kind of book: you have to have the patience for it. It doesn't necessarily tell a story in a full arc, but it's sweet and moving. I very much liked Ruth and the novel (even I did wonder how both Ruth and eventually Linus could afford to stay with their parents, while jobless, but oh well.). Lovely and touching - certainly worth picking up.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley (thank you!) in return for an unbiased review; it is available everywhere as of 07/11/2017.

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