Monday, October 29, 2012

Review: All Gone by Alex Witchel

You count on your mom to always be there for you.  Even when you're an adult, you count on her remaining the person who once upon a time tucked you in at night, kissed away boo-boos, made your favorite dinner for your birthday, and celebrated all your accomplishments small or large.  But when that mom starts to disappear into the smothering fog of dementia, you have to mourn the loss of the bed-tucking, boo-boo-kissing, dinner-cooking, celebratory mom long before she is actually gone.  Alex Witchel's brief memoir All Gone: A Memoir of My Mother's Dementia, With Refreshments chronicles the painful way in which an adult child has to say goodbye to the mom of memory long before time and the way in which, even though that mom is trapped inside the malfunctioning synapses of her own brain, Witchel can still keep her close in her heart and in her kitchen.
Written non-linearly, this memoir deals with the present day tasks of taking care of an aging and ill parent, memories of Witchel's childhood, and a few recipes that she remembers her mother cooking.  While the three are connected, they are not necessarily integrated together well.  Witchel's initial denial, sorrowful acceptance, and frustration with the disease claiming her mother's past, present, and even her very personality is presented honestly and bare of embellishment.  The portion of the memoir dealing with the slow slide of her mother's disappearance into dementia is the most poignant, best written of the memoir.  The portions of Witchel's childhood are occasionally instructive of her relationship with her mother but often that connection is hard to make and so the bouncing between childhood and the present can feel disjointed. 
The third bit of the book, and one that I expected, given the subtitle, to take more precedence deals with Witchel cooking the recipes she remembers her mother making, finding comfort in the comfort food of their family.  While we all have a visceral connection to the food of our childhood, it seemed an odd way for her to conjure up the mother of her youth given that her mother seemingly didn't like to cook.  Her recipes feel as if they were all culled from newspaper columns or magazine aimed at the "new working woman" and the convenience that she would desire in facing dinnertime after putting in a full day at the office, not as if they were treasured family recipes.  And often the recipes are plunked at the end of the chapters with little or no tie to the content of the chapter.  As a concept, the connection of food with memories of childhood and the present reality of a mother shrouded in dementia is a natural one and there are moments when Witchel gets it right.  Unfortunately, there were more moments for me where she doesn't quite get there.

Thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers for sending me a copy of the book to review.

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