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The Story of My Father Hardcover – March 11, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Miller's first nonfiction book (after While I Was Gone; The World Below; etc.), about caring for her Alzheimer's-afflicted father, is a rare example of an illness memoir with widespread appeal. Prospective readers need not have any interest in Alzheimer's; they need only have parents of their own to appreciate this testimony's dignity and grace. Miller's father, James Nichols, started showing signs of dementia in 1986, when he was picked up by the police after ringing a stranger's doorbell in the middle of the night, announcing he was lost. Miller's careful recounting of James's slow demise and progression through the various stages of an assisted living community are punctuated by pleasant memories and even humor, e.g., when James, a retired religious scholar, assesses his surroundings and comments, "No one ever seems to graduate from here." As she recalls childhood stories and family memories, Miller simultaneously offers a memoir of her own development as a writer. "[T]his is the hardest lesson... for a caregiver: you can never do enough to make a difference in the course of the disease," Miller writes. "We always find ourselves deficient in devotion.... Did you visit once a week? you might have visited twice. Oh, you visited daily? but perhaps he would have done better if you'd kept him at home. In the end all those judgments, those self-judgments, are pointless. This disease is inexorable, cruel. It scoffs at everything." 11 photos.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
As her father succumbs to Alzheimer's, Miller examines both his life and her own. The popular novelist will launch her first book-length piece of nonfiction with a seven-city tour.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Miller recounts, in the Afterword, how difficult it was for her to write this book about her late father, and how many times she put it aside to pursue something else. But she continued to be drawn back to it over the years, seeing it perhaps as a kind of unfinished business that needed to be dealt with. Her mental health depended on it, and she also wanted to share her experiences with the last few years and death of her father in hopes that it might help others who have had to witness a beloved parent or relative succumb to Alzheimer's.
Miller also did her homework over the years to learn as much as she could about Alzheimer's and the latest research and findings on this terrible disease. The information she shares in this regard is exceptionally well chosen and relevant. But it seemed to me the best parts of the book were when she recounted memories of her father's life and her own. Her father, who was an historian, teacher and a scholar at the University of Chicago and then Princeton Theological Seminary was always a distant and somewhat detached man, making close relationships problematic. His more flamboyant and gregarious wife (who predeceased him from a sudden heart attack) had always been in charge and overshadowed him in many ways in their family, making a close relationship between Miller and her father difficult, until after her mother was gone. And by then Nichols was already beginning to show early signs of the disease that would finally kill him.
Miller obviously treasures the time she spent with her father, even the difficult and heartbreaking times near the end of his life. She wrote this book so that she would not forget those times - good and bad. In this respect her tribute to her father is reminiscent of another Alzheimer's memoir I read not long ago: In a Tangled Wood, by Joyce Dyer, which recounted her mother's struggle with the debilitating and deadly disease. Dyer noted near the end of her book how her friends urged her to take a trip, to get away after her mother had finally passed away and try to forget. But Dyer didn't. Instead she wrote the book and emphasized that she didn't ever want to forget a single thing that happened. It was her way of paying tribute to a mother who had, finally and tragically, forgotten everything.
I think perhaps Sue Miller was trying to do the same thing with The Story of My Father. In any case, she has certainly honored a father who continues to loom large in her inner landscape. If I have any complaints at all about this book it is that there is not enough about Miller herself. Perhaps that will come in another memoir at a later time. I hope so. In the meantime, I will highly recommend this book to anyone who has struggled with the specter of Alzheimer's in their family, as well as to fathers or daughters who continue to grapple with with that particularly puzzling relationship between a father and a daughter. This is a book worth reading. - Tim Bazzett, author of PINHEAD: A LOVE STORY
Sue Miller shows Alzeimers to all of us.