Sunshine Like a Stick of Butter, with Rachel Khong (A Book Review of ‘Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel’)

Book Reviews, Fiction, Love

It was just few years ago when my grandmother, who I was named after, started leaving plates of food on the table. For my grandfather, she says. At that time my gramps, a notorious womanizer, has been dead for at least 10 years. She then started accusing household help of stealing items she’s kept away, or for sneaking out when she’s sent them to run errands for her.

I was about 7,000 miles away from her when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She passed soon shortly after that.

Grandma was on my mind when I first started reading Rachel Khong’s Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel (Amazon | Indiebound), a story about a year-long care-giving of a daughter for her ailing father suffering from the same sickness.

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After her mom suggested she move back for a year to help care for her father, Ruth slowly establishes a life back at their home in southern California. In the midst of reacquainting herself with her father’s new ways (a sour temperament, always holed up in his home office), she also recounts moments from her last failed relationship.

Ruth cooks for his father, studies and avoids what could exacerbate his symptoms, is diligent in ensuring he takes what he needs. But it isn’t so simple, she finds out. It started with him forgetting his wallet, then forgetting to turn the faucet off until it got to a point where he would show up to teach a class at the university on the wrong day.

In one of many attempts of trying to regain “normalcy” in his life, Ruth and some of his father’s mentees and colleagues employ an elaborate set-up. As agreed upon by everyone, they would pretend that he is back in the university teaching, as the “students” pretend to move the class from one place on campus to restaurants across town to avoid being caught. His father seems to be his old self back.

On Grief and the Permission to Leave, with Max Porter

Book Reviews, Fiction

I don’t know who to thank for bringing Max Porter’s book Grief is the Thing with Feathers within my sphere of biblio-senses, but I owe them a lifetime of gratitude. While grief and gratitude may be emotions on opposite ends, I was able to reconcile both in this book — one of the most memorable pieces of literature I’ve ever read.

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Grief is fiction, also poetry, centered on the death of “Mum,” whose husband simply called “Dad” and whose children called “Boys” narrate loss and pain in the book. An unexpected character “Crow” also appears consistently, whose presence makes for a sometimes-hilarious, sometimes-profound literary experience.

Through poignant vignettes, Mum’s death is foretold by all three — Dad, the boys and Crow — in varying emotional landscapes, as the small family slowly builds their life without her.

The Swiss psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross states that there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I think it’s safe to say that the characters go through these stages, once you get into the novel’s unconventional but refreshing format.

At the heart of the Grief is its ability to capture the gravity of loss, and put it into words.

BOYS:

Where are the fire engines? Where is the noise and glamour of an event like this? Where are the strangers going out of their way to help, screaming, flinging bits of emergency glow-in-the-dark equipment at us to try and settle us and save us? There should be men in helmets speaking a new and dramatic language of crisis.

The boys’ narrative was innocent, infinitely curious about death, its specifics and (always about) Dad. In some ways, it seemed like losing their mother was an easier thing for them than it was for their father’s. They had each other to console and derive comfort from. While they were once accomplices in mischief before their mother’s death, they became great allies in dealing with grief.