Blurb: Ruth is thirty and her life is falling apart: she and her fiancé are moving house, but he’s moving out to live with another woman; her career is going nowhere; and then she learns that her father, a history professor beloved by his students, has Alzheimer’s. At Christmas, her mother begs her to stay on and help. For a year. Goodbye, Vitamin is the wry, beautifully observed story of a woman at a crossroads, as Ruth and her friends attempt to shore up her father’s career; she and her mother obsess over the ambiguous health benefits – in the absence of a cure – of dried jellyfish supplements and vitamin pills; and they all try to forge a new relationship with the brilliant, childlike, irascible man her father has become.
Goodbye Vitamin is Rachel Khong’s charming debut novel. It centers around how Alzheimers affects a family. I was a bit hesitant about this book at first, because books about Alzheimers stress me out emotionally. It’s one of those things, like cancer, that I really cannot bear to read about because I work in medicine. I’m around bad news enough already. Goodbye Vitamin is not emotionally depleting, rather it is funny and quirky and oh, so sweet.
It is written in a slightly unconventional manner, in that Ruth’s father’s journal entries are interspersed among the actual story telling as Ruth who’s moved back home goes through the journals her dad wrote to document her childhood. I rather liked having those breaks in the stream of consciousness. The book also explores her dad’s life before Alzheimers as Ruth herself recollects memories of her childhood linked by her father’s words in his journals.
No family is perfect, and Ruth’s is not an exception. Her parents have an interesting relationship with each other and her brother is practically estranged out of resentment for their father and his treatment of their mother. Khong’s book is about the fractured family finding their way back to each other and how much illness changes things in a family.
In the midst of it all, Ruth is also dealing with a broken engagement and her musings on her relationship grant us a portal of sorts into why it all fell apart. It is obvious in what ways her partner failed her and almost embarrassing at other times how frantically she clung to a relationship she knew was doomed.
I loved Rachel Khong’s style of writing and that it’s such a short but poignant book. I enjoyed learning slowly about the family and about Ruth who grows on you with every page; her awkwardness, naiveté, her love for her father. I liked that it wasn’t a sob story, because illness is sad, but life is also really hard and it’s nice to read about things and not be sad for days afterward.
It felt a bit rushed toward the end, an almost overwrought scamper to the finish line, but I enjoyed it regardless.
In diagnosing Alzheimer’s, doctors can only tell you everything that it isn’t.
“Forget it,” Bonnie says. “He doesn’t deserve you” she says, sternly, the way friends assure with a lot of conviction but have no way of knowing for certain. What if we deserved each other exactly?
I’ve never liked New Year’s. The trouble with beginnings is that there’s no such thing. What’s a beginning but an arbitrary point of entry? You begin when you’re born, I guess, but it’s not like you know anything about that.
It was grotesque, the way I kept trying to save that relationship. Like trying to tuck an elephant into pants.
The smell of ironing is a smell I love. The iron travels down the sleeve, like a ship on a shinning river.
A long time ago I stopped wondering why there were so many crazy people. What surprises me now is that there are so many sane ones.
What imperfect carriers of love we are, and what imperfect givers. That the reasons we care for one person 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 for that person.
I knew it started being over with Joel when I’d open a bottle of wine and he wouldn’t drink it. Sharing things is how things get started and not sharing is how they end.
“Today you bit the corners of your sandwich and announced you were taking the edge off.”
“The word testify” you said “comes from testicles. Men used to swear by their balls”
Rating: 4/5 stars.
Advance Reading Copy (ARC) provided by publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
I’d recommend this book, especially if you’re looking for something short, sweet and different!