This installment: dementia plus recipes (sad and funny); a mystery set in Virginia; caregiving by default; and a charming Brooklyn soap opera
All Gone by Alix Witchell
Subtitled A Memoir of My Mother’s Dementia with Refreshments. Witchell writes about food for the NY Times and this touching account of her mother’s decline is studded with recipes from her childhood—comfort food amid the awful discomfort of helplessly watching an ex-professor’s decline. Witchell tried to step in whenever possible, but her strong-willed mother was stubborn and besides, there wasn’t that much that could be done. Almost chatty in tone, candid, and a testament to grace under pressure, which is why I gobble up books like these. By the way, most of the recipes are dated by definition and I wasn’t tempted to try any of them, but they certainly evoke eating styles of yesteryear.
Oregon Hill by Howard Owen
A mystery set in Richmond, VA. Willie’s a reporter, hard drinking, mixed race. The body of a local coed, headless, shows up in the river and the police think they have a lock on the suspect. But Willie’s suspicious and his digging, which creates havoc with the status quo, turns up surprising, sinister connections in the eponymous neighborhood where he grew up. Willie’s mother is a drunk, his daughter at college is somewhat estranged, but there’s a dogged core of goodness in him that keeps him going. Good local color. Suspenseful.
The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison
Our hapless hero with the unfortunate name of Ben Benjamin needs a job. No home, marriage kaput, and as for children, we gradually learn why and that’s the shadow that drives his character. So he becomes a professional caregiver. His first client is Trevor, 19, with a wasting illness and a bad attitude. Trevor’s mother Elsa is fiercely protective. Ben and Trevor’s days together are grim and flat; excursions tend to go awry. Ben comes up with an imaginary road trip for diversion that becomes a reality when Trevor’s estranged father has a debilitating accident and they go visit him. What a wild journey which really stretches Trevor’s horizons and give Ben a chance to make peace with his own past as well. Picaresque, sometimes improbable, but I was rooting for the whole bunch of misfits and glad to ride shotgun with them.
Motherland by Amy Sohn
In Brooklyn, an up and coming neighborhood is full of families with problems. It’s a soap opera of infidelities, bad judgment, getting and spending, and wrangling all those children. Because Brooklyn is so close to the Big Apple and some of the characters have show biz connections, the novel is studded with real-life celebrities. (I always find this mix of fantasy and “reality” confusing.) The couples also wrestle with temptation and frustration, and for the most part end up sadder but wiser. Lots of sly wit throughout.
Back next Monday.