Sunday, September 16, 2012

All gone: a memoir with refreshments

There is a scene somewhere in the middle of this book that I can't quite shake.  The author is a teenager-frustrated with math homework, and stands up and makes a gesture at the skies as if to say, "I give up."  The author's father mistakenly thinks his daughter is going to hit him and punches her in the face.  She retreats to her room and her mother comes in and demands that she go apologize, "your father thought you were going to hit him first," she says.

I recount the scene because it is shocking and because it illustrates a bit about what was off about this memoir.  All Gone, a memoir ostensibly about Alex Witchel's mother's descent into depression and dementia, had this strange undercurrent of a story about her relationship with her father that was only hinted at and seemed the true story of this memoir.

Ms Witchel clearly loves her mother beyond all measure and is devastated to watch her formerly strong, independent, educated mother fall into mental disarray.  It is a very true story to which many of us can relate.  Her writing is clear and unadorned and when she finally settles down to tell the story, during the last half of the book, it comes through quite sadly and clearly.

But up until then the book seemed to be all over the place, a bit about childhood, a bit about nana, a bit about how she got to be a writer, some food writing,  and little stories and anecdotes about her horrible relationship with her father.

It felt not quite ready to be written.  This is a complaint I have made frequently about memoirs, and I think this is a perfect example.  At the time of this writing it appears that her mother and her father are still alive. The story feels like it is still in full swing to me and not over yet. It also explains why she may not have explored as much about her relationship with her father as she should have.  The missing stories about him could fill another chapter or two.

The author is a food writer by trade and includes food memories and recipes throughout which I always love. I am definitely going to try her potato latkes.

I recommend this book if you have a parent going through end of life issues related to dementia or if you love food memories and recipes wound up in the narrative. It is an early review book and I would be glad to share it with anyone who asks.

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