Monday, July 17, 2017
Book Review: "Goodbye, Vitamin" by Rachel Khong
Ruth is 30 years old. Her engagement has ended and she feels untethered to the life she has known, so she comes home to visit her parents for the holidays. She has avoided her family for a while after hearing stories of her father's drinking and his infidelities, so she is unprepared to find her father, a former college professor, in the throes of dementia, while her mother is trying to care for her father, but in an oddly detached way. Ruth agrees to quit her job and move home for a year to help out, although she probably is in equal need of help, albeit a different kind.
"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 personwhat we felt about that person."
What follows are reflections on a difficult year for her family and herself, told as diary entries of a sort. She reconnects with old friends, gets involved in a scheme to try and help her father's self-worth, tries to understand why her relationship ended (and wonders if she really cares), and attempts to figure out her parents' relationship with each other. At the same time she takes tentative steps toward her own future.
There are moments of humor, poignancy, frustration, and beautiful emotion in this book. At the same time, Ruth is one of those characters you wish would say the things she really wants to say, but she's so used to taking such a passive role in her own life. (She left college weeks before graduating because her then-boyfriend wanted to move away.)
I really enjoyed this book, and despite the fact that the story is told in small snippets of events from each day, I didn't get the feeling I was missing anything from the story. It did feel a little disjointed at timesalthough there was an over-arching narrative, the story jumped quickly from day to day, so it didn't flow quite as neatly as it could have.
Khong's storytelling, however, is utterly exquisite. While her style is rather spare, much like Weike Wang in Chemistry (see my review), she can wring humor and emotion from the simplest sentences. I can't wait to see what she writes next, because her talent really is dazzling.
For those who have dealt with a loved one or friend suffering from dementia, this may be a difficult read. But Khong took what could have been a maudlin subject and added other dimensions, so it's the story of a family's journey through difficult and good times, instead of simply the story of a man growing increasingly ill. That's the mark of true talent.