The Things We Keep

The Things We Keep – Sally Hepworth

Fiction

Kindle edition

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We can make each moment frightening for her with the truth. Or we can lie to her and make each moment happy and joyous. I know what I’d prefer if it were me.”

What is memory, really? What is speech? Do we need to remember a person in order to love them? And if we love them, do the words even matter?

These are all questions Hepworth explores in the beautifully-written The Things We Keep, which centers around three women. Anna, a 38 year old suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s; Eve, a widow trying to pick up the pieces of her fractured life; and Clem, Eve’s daughter, who is just as much a victim of her father’s betrayal as the rest of the world.

When Anna’s family admits her into Rosalind House, they counted on her being protected and cared for. What they never counted on was her finding a partner amidst all the confusion. But then Anna meets Luke, Rosalind House’s other younger resident who is also suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s. Luke’s form of Dementia affects his speech. However, despite the many obstacles each of them face, they begin to forge a friendship. And then that friendship becomes something much more…

Eve never expected to find herself as a single parent. Yet after her husband Richard’s Bernie Madoff-esque ponzi scheme is revealed, that is exactly the role Eve is thrust into. Faced with the daunting task of raising her daughter, Clem, in a much lower tax bracket than the two of them are accustomed to, Eve takes a job as the chef at Rosalind House.

While performing her duties, Eve takes notice of the budding relationship between Anna and Luke. They seem so much happier when they are around each other, or at least Anna does. But Anna’s brother Jack doesn’t feel it’s in Anna’s best interest to be around Luke. Only Eve feels it is.

What would you do if you knew, instinctively, that being around a specific person could greatly enhance someone else’s life? Would you risk your job?

And what if you were wrong? Would you still take that chance?

After all, Anna’s memory is deteriorating rapidly. There’s no conclusive evidence that she – or Luke – even remember who the other is at any given point.

Plus, in addition to fighting for Anna and Luke, Eve is also fighting for her daughter, Clem. Clem’s still too young to really grasp what her father has done. All she knows is people are saying terrible things about her dad.

When someone we love has done the unthinkable, how do we cope? Are we expected to let go of all the wonderful memories?

And more importantly, when we’re losing ourselves and our grips on reality, what are the things we try the hardest to keep?

Conclusion: ⅘ stars

Still Alice

Still Alice – Lisa Genova (Kindle edition)images

Harvard professor Alice Howland had the life she always wanted. A loving husband and three successful children.

And then she got the one thing she never wanted….or expected. At 50, Alice is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. As her mind slowly deteriorates, Alice struggles to hold onto those aspects of her life that she holds most dear. Her words. Her memories. Her life.

This is an incredibly realistic and therefore painful depiction of what it’s like for those suffering from Alzheimer’s and what it is like for their families. For Alice, it’s made worse due to the fact that her type of Alzheimer’s is genetic. So, not only is this disease going to rob her of her life and those activities of daily living we take for granted, but it also holds the possibility of robbing the lives of her children as well.

It’s not an easy read. I found myself aching for Alice as her Alzheimer’s progressed and she had difficulty recognizing her children. I wanted to jump into the pages and give her a hug. I wanted to be able to save her and find a way for her to get her life back. I felt her humiliation and frustration.

And I also felt for Alice’s family. Her husband, John, a scientist who can’t do anything for his ailing wife; her three children. Anna, newly married and trying to get pregnant, Tom, a surgeon, and Lydia, an aspiring actress.

I pictured myself in Alice’s shoes, my world crumbling around me. Losing the ability to process situations, fearing for when I would not remember those I love more than anything in the world, but also how devastating it would be to lose myself. Maybe we don’t always have a grip on who we are 100% of the time. We feel lost and confused, but it’s a temporary feeling. Except for when it isn’t.

For anyone who has had a relative with Alzheimer’s, you know how excruciating and awful it can be. But we expect it with relatives who are elderly. We don’t expect it with people we love and care about who are still relatively young. We don’t see it coming for us either. There’s a lot of scary things out there, but for me, this book was terrifying. Not because it was some thriller about a serial killer, but because it was just….too real. But that’s also what makes it a wonderful story that will stay with you long after you have finished the last page.

Conclusion: 5/5 stars