Saturday, September 2, 2017

Goodbye, Vitamin - Rachel Khong

      "Today after you lost a tooth, you cried that you looked like a pumpkin.
       Today I had to stop by the post office and you looked around and said, aghast, 'This is errands?"
       Today, while I was changing your brother's diaper, and putting baby powder on him, you burst into tears and begged me not to put too much salt on him.
       Today you were so readily impressed by me."  -  Ruth's father's journal

In Rachel Khong's playful yet deeply moving Goodbye, Vitamin (Henry Holt and Company, 2017), Ruth is a thirty-ish woman with a recently broken engagement who comes home to live with her mother and father after he is diagnosed with dementia. Mom, always an enthusiastic cook, blames the aluminum cookware and quite possibly Dad's past marital indiscretions, and has closed herself off physically and emotionally from the kitchen and from the family. Ruth steps in as Dad's primary caregiver and daily companion, and as his symptoms progress and their roles reverse, their relationship finds a close and comfortable mutuality.

Food and romance also find their way into Ruth's story.  As one recently jilted, Ruth must, of course, find a new and improved love interest. There is just enough romance to feel happy and hopeful for Ruth, without taking away from or taking over the novel. The author, a former editor of Lucky Peach, also brings her culinary sensibility to bear in wonderful ways - Ruth relishes cooking, and the reader delights in the sensory joys of her ingredients and creations, as well as in the ways food brings her closer to her friends and family.

Above all, I loved and was won over by the author's lovely and engaging balance of humor and grief. The novel's California setting, with its quirky people and places, seems absolutely the right backdrop for whimsically offbeat but strikingly specific observations about Ruth's world. Khong skillfully uses the funnier aspects of Alzheimer's to best advantage, and for much of the novel, one could almost forget the inevitable sadness of the disease. But she doesn't, and we don't, either. One quiet and poignant request from Dad: "could you write it all down, so I won't forget?" leads us, hearts and eyes brimming, to the book's perfect conclusion.

I received my complimentary copy of Goodbye, Vitamin from the publisher. 

Happy reading!

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