Wednesday, April 8, 2015

WE ARE NOT OURSELVES by Matthew Thomas

Eileen becomes a nurse and finds that she is good at it.  After all, she is basically a nursemaid for her entire life.  First, she rises prematurely to adulthood in order to cope with two hard-drinking parents.  Then she marries Ed, who is a brilliant scientist whose only aspiration is to teach.  In his early fifties, he starts to lose his faculties, so to speak, and thus begins Eileen’s most taxing job yet.  Finally, their son Connell has inherited his father’s smarts but is an easy mark for troublemaking peers.  The bottom line is that, at over 600 pages, this book is too long.  I know that caring for an adult who is sinking into early Alzheimer’s is a lengthy and thankless task, but, honestly, I was so ready for this book to end.  I get that the author wanted to give us a sense of how draining this disease is for the victim’s family, but this is not how I want to spend my leisure time.  I also understand that the author wants to educate us, but I just don’t think he needed to drag it out for so long.  Plus, as is often the case with stories of Alzheimer’s patients, the wife, who should certainly recognize that her husband’s struggle in recording end-of-term grades is not normal, is in denial while her husband is holding on to reality by a mere thread.  The most heartbreaking example of this denial is that Eileen wants to move to the suburbs into a fixer-upper whose price is beyond their means.  Ed wants to stay put, obviously because change is scary for someone who is barely functioning on familiar turf.  Even their son, who accompanies his father to class one day, realizes that stress is not a sufficient explanation for his father’s problems.  Ed, who is more aware than anyone that he’s losing his grip, chooses not to discuss the issue with anyone, in stereotypical male “I-can-handle-this-myself” fashion.  All three characters have more than enough guilt to  go around:  Ed, for having to relinquish his role as patriarch; Connell, for failing to provide any relief or assistance to his mother; and Eileen, for eventually having to seek outside help, even though, as a nurse, she feels that she should be able to do the job alone.  My favorite character, by far, is Sergei, the last of Eileen’s hired caretakers, who somehow manages to calm the chaos and give us readers, as well as Eileen, an uplifting break.

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