5 Books for World Alzheimer's Month

In fiction and nonfiction, these authors whose lives have been touched by Alzheimer's Disease bear witness and weave stories about the complexity of memory, identity, and love.

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Reverberations: A Daughter's Meditations on Alzheimer's, by Marion Agnew

About the book: Most people think Alzheimer's Disease is the same as memory loss, if they think about it at all. But most people prefer to ignore it, hoping that if they ignore it hard enough, it will go away. That was certainly Marion Agnew's hope, even after she knew her mother's diagnosis. Yet, with her mother's diagnosis, Marion's world changed. Her mother—a Queen's and Harvard/Radcliffe-educated mathematician, a nuclear weapons researcher in Montreal during Word War II, an award-winning professor and researcher for five decades, wife of a history professor, and mother of five—began drifting away from her. To keep hold of her, to remember her, she began paying attention, and began writing what she saw. She wrote as her mother became suspicious on outings, as she lost even the simplest of words, as she hallucinated, as she became frightened and agitated. But after her mother's death, Marion wanted to honour the time of her mother's life in which she had the disease, but she didn't want the illness to dominate the relationship she'd had with her mother. This moving memoir looks at grief and family, at love and music. It is a coming-to-terms reflection on the endurance of love and family.

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Notes Toward Recovery, by Louise Ells

About the book: "Alice Munro’s latter work formed the backbone of my dissertation. Comparing versions of Munro’s stories as they appeared, first in magazines and later in Dear Life, allowed me to focus on her revision process. This close reading of her work shaped the way I approached the redrafting of my stories, all of which explore loss and the spaces around loss.

Woven throughout my collection is the suggestion that people create identities though the telling and re-telling of their stories, reframing recollections as necessary. I am interested in how the stories (and lies) we tell ourselves, and others, shape our lives. I am also interested in how we identify ourselves after losing a role (wife, daughter, mother) by which we’ve always defined ourselves. There are words to describe those who outlive a spouse, or outlive a parent - where is the word to describe a parent who outlives a child?

My stories consider how we are unable to confirm the "truth" of a matter, when the "facts" of an event are accessible only via a memory, which may or may not be entirely trustworthy. My husband is living with early onset dementia, so memory, and loss of memory, are concerns which dominate my daily life. (The irony is heartbreaking—that I was writing this collection just as he was beginning this new phase of his life.) I am determined now, to hold on to his most important stories for him, as well as to witness him as he is now.

I thought I was incorporating ideas of liminality in my work through the use of physical and psychological thresholds. I see now that the transitory nature of dementia scaffolds the collection. I am grateful to all the authors who have shown me the potential power of short fiction; this quote is also a quiet thank you to a woman whose work has changed my life." (From AllLitUp.ca)

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Four Umbrellas: A Couple's Journey Into Young-Onset Alzheimer's, by June Hutton & Tony Wanless (Out in October)

About the book: A writing couple searches for answers when Alzheimer's causes one of them to lose the place where stories come from — memory.

At the age of fifty-three, Tony walks away from a life of journalism and into an unknown future. June is forty-eight, a writer and teacher, and over the following decade watches as her husband changes — in interests, goals, and behaviour — until Tony has a fall, ending the life they had known.

A diagnosis is seven years away, yet the signs of Alzheimer’s are all around. A suitcase Tony packs for a trip is jammed with four umbrellas, a visual symbol of cognitive looping. But how far back do these signs go? The couple starts probing the past and finding answers. This is not an old person’s disease.

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The Smallest Objective, by Sharon Kirsch

About the book: From the author of What Species of Creatures, Sharon Kirsch, comes The Smallest Objective, an intricate and melancholy personal memoir about a daughter's last days with her mother, the hidden recesses of family history, and the treasures that the past can bring in the face of a difficult present.

Having moved her elderly mother into a care home, the author of The Smallest Objective must now empty the family home of half a century, discovering as she does so a series of small objects that unlock her family's past: a lantern slide, a faded recipe book, a postcard from Mexico, a nugget of fool's gold.

With the object of saving off grief while attending to her mother's final days, Sharon embarks on a quest to retrieve the origin and circumstances surrounding each of these articles. Along the way, she discovers the stories of several early- to mid-century Montreal Jewish personalities—a Runyonesque hustler, a Lithuanian botanist, and a self-made young woman—as well as the extent to which they were punctured and shaped by the muffled anti-Semitism of the time.

The Smallest Objective examines the minutiae of lives lived, our concern for senior members of our family, the time we need to sift, take stock, and filter out the important things, and the consolation offered by staying close to loved ones even when we can't reach them.
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The Manãna Treehouse, by Bruce McLean

About the book: Connie Kish won’t be written off as just another sad casualty of Alzheimer’s. Oddly at first, she’s the caregiver, finding ways to help her husband, Max, cope with what’s happening to her. When she sees that he’s utterly devastated and crying in secret, she decides to let him off the hook by divorcing him. She pushes him away with all her might while he hangs onto to her for dear life. There comes a new man into her life and another woman in his. In a comedy of errors, Connie and Max come out on the other side, together again. He has matured and stepped up as the caregiver. They’re awash in Alzheimer’s, trying to stay afloat and looking after each other in a mirroring of love back and forth between them.

September 3, 2020
Books mentioned in this post
Reverberations

Reverberations

A Daughter's Meditations on Alzheimer's
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
More Info
Four Umbrellas

Four Umbrellas

A Couple's Journey Into Young-Onset Alzheimer's
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
More Info
The Smallest Objective

The Smallest Objective

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
More Info
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