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Monday, February 13, 2017

Book Review: Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

This book starts off with such a great setup: a neighbor down the street finds Ruth's dad's pants hanging from a tree in his yard. It turns out her father, a college professor, is in the early stages of Alzheimer's. Ruth, a thirty-year-old who performs sonograms at a hospital in San Francisco, has recently had her fiance leave her and is feeling adrift. At her mother's request, she moves home to Los Angeles for a year to help out. While there she sees the toll her father's condition is taking on her mother. She talks with her brother who, five years younger, has a different, much more complicated relationship with their parents. She gets to know her father's TA who helps create a fake class so he can feel like he's still teaching, which gives him much meaning and focus in his life.

The book's style wasn't for me. It's written in a diary format which means very little dialogue, and halfway through, she switches from writing for herself what's going on, to keeping track for her father what they've been doing, which necessitates a switch from first person to second, and from present tense to past, which felt abrupt and forced. But she does this in order to echo a notebook her father gave her that he kept when she was a small child, about the funny things she did. I found Ruth to be too passive, and without agency, for my taste. Not a whole lot happens in the book, and the overall tone was filled with melancholy. I'm sure plenty of young twenty-somethings would identify with Ruth, with feeling powerless and like events happen to you. I did at the end feel like I should appreciate my family, especially my parents, more. And I liked that towards the end Ruth did get to a more positive place. I especially liked the complication and showing how Ruth and her brother can have such different experiences of and relationships with their parents, as that's rarely acknowledged in novels. This is a challenging book that will make readers thing about their own decisions (or lack thereof), family, aging, and memory.

I got this book for free from the publisher at Winter Institute.

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