From Publishers Weekly
Death is never timely: it comes either too soon or too late. In The Year of Magical Thinking
, Joan Didion recounts the aftermath of her husband's sudden death at the dinner table. At the other edge of the spectrum, Owens describes seven years preceding her mother's relentless descent into dementia, "God's own breath slowly leaking out through the fissures in her brain." Afflicted first with Parkinson's, then small strokes and Alzheimer's disease, Mrs. Stem eventually required round-the-clock care. Owens moved next door and spent hours every day with her: "All I could do was squat beside the avalanche, listening for any sign of life; sometimes I could hear a faint but familiar echo of her voice or gesture from under the heap." Through essays as incisive and insightful as Didion's, this account succeeds on multiple levels: medical detective story, personal memoir, flawless description, philosophical and spiritual exploration (where is the self when the brain no longer functions normally?). Owens offers not self-help but hope as she bears witness to the grief and glory of life's ending: "If love... weren't the center from which life flows, if it didn't, as Dante says, move the stars, how could we bear such weight?" (June)
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With the 85-and-older population the fastest-growing segment of the elderly, and with millions of baby boomers sprinting toward their ranks, the likelihood of encountering Alzheimer's oneself or in a family member should increase exponentially in coming decades. Counting herself among this population-in-waiting, Owens offers this thought-provoking memoir of her family's nearly seven-year-long ordeal with her mother's illness. Portraying additional struggles with her own and her father's age-related medical issues, she yet drives home the relentlessness of Alzheimer's demands on its sufferer's circle of support. No matter a spouse's heart condition, or a daughter's challenged visionmother's wandering off at any moment must take precedence. Owens and her father tended her mother a year and a half before the illness demanded nursing-home care. Though the nursing home offered release from 24/7 duty and relieved certain fears and responsibilities, her mother's condition still obliged considerable time commitment from the rest of the family. Rather than belaboring the losses it entailed, Owens makes her experience instructive and conducive to reflection by readers facing similar challenges. Chavez, Donna