Tuesday, December 11, 2012

All Gone: A Memoir of My Mother's Dementia. With Refreshments, by Alex Witchel

While the breezy subtitle of this book might suggest that it is a humorous take on having a parent with dementia (is that even possible?), such is not the case. All Gone is a very sad memoir focused on the author's relationship with her mother, from childhood to her mother's old age. While that relationship was essentially strong, other family relationships were problematic--Witchel's father was habitually cold and angry; she and her sister became estranged while her sister was going through fertility treatments (they reconciled when her sister was diagnosed with breast cancer); and her brothers do not seem present in her adult life. Meanwhile, trying to oversee her mother's care while working full time had serious negative effects on Witchel's own health. I repeat: A sad story.

Promotion for the book has emphasized the cooking aspect of the story--Witchel does talk about making her mother's signature dishes (and provides recipes). But she does not find cooking the soul-restoring activity I was expecting. In fact, she says, "The transcendent comforts of cooking had completely escaped me. . . . There was no healing, no salvation." So, one might ask, why bother to include the food element? Perhaps because Witchel is a food writer and writing about food is in her comfort zone--whereas writing about her family isn't. It's not clear to me.

Overall, there's not a lot of comfort in this story. The book is a quick read, but I'm not motivated to make the recipes, didn't get any insights into how to handle your parents aging, and didn't feel particularly moved by the author's story.

Favorite passages:
It is an intimacy to cook with someone else, inhabit his space.

Part of what defines a person is who they are to you. As long as you're still there, so are they. . . . That's why it's difficult to see a parent in any other role.

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