Approaching Wilderness. Six Stories of Dementia Kindle Edition
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Gene describes the dementia-stricken with compassion and humor. In each story, the central characters cope with an increasing loss of touch with reality, and experience anger at and fear of what’s happening to them. In “The Woman Who Came for Lunch,” a couple is barely coping with daily living – the man gets lost walking around the block in his bathrobe and slippers, while the woman calls 9-1-1 to report a strange man hanging around her house. The story ends with an ironic twist, at least it seems ironic and unexpected to us who are looking in on the characters. But the characters are continually dealing with the unexpected, the mixed-up, and the half-remembered.
In “No Choice,” the ending takes us by surprise, but the core of the story is the day-to-day process of dementia, as it robs the struggling characters of their minds. Gene draws us in to the lives of the protagonists, and engenders sympathy for them even if they are wetting the bed and screaming at the top of their lungs. They struggle for some measure of independence, and we are rooting for them to maintain some dignity and receive recognition that they are adults and not babies.
In “A Letter of Intent” and “Approaching Wilderness” Gene describes the characters’ passionate, if unrealistic, desire to have control over their own lives, and the resulting anger at those who want to control them or put them away in a clean and sterile facility. Both stories have a twist at the end that underscores Gene’s mastery of the absurd and humorous, even in dire situations.
The stories are well written and fun to read, even though the topic could be depressing. The characters fight with the dementia and with themselves and others at the enveloping frustration of forgetting everything. Yet, they have a certain nobility as they reject conformity, safety, and comfort, and express themselves in whatever way they can (sometimes with graphic expletives that some may find offensive). In his poem to his father, Dylan Thomas advises not to "go gentle into that good night" and to “rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Gene’s characters do rage against their situation, and in doing so make us sympathetic with their struggle.
The stories will engage readers of any age.