An enjoyable novel that tackles a number of contemporary issues in innovative fashion. I was particularly interested in Mason's attempt to imagine what goes on in the mind of an elderly person (Joan) succumbing to dementia or Alzheimer's. His version is imaginative, sometimes humorous, and it's what we would LIKE to believe, though I think the reality of what happens when a good mind goes bad is probably less neat and less cogent than suggested here. (We'll never know for sure, though, will we?)
The best reason to read this book is that Mason successfully captures how a change of surroundings for a "senior" can trigger disorientation; how institutions of care for the elderly rely on drugs to keep their patients artificially subdued; how this can often exacerbate some of the natural changes and frailties of old age; how that in turn can lead to misdiagnosis or increasingly aberrant behavior, and then more drugs, in a vicious downward spiral. All of this is very familiar from my own family's experience 18 months ago.
Eloise's financial/professional difficulties also reflect a very modern problem: professional advancement vs. the professional ethics. In the end, it's not her own will or belated choice, but an unsatisfying and rather artificial concatenation of events, that brings her dilemma to a neat conclusion.
As a novel, Natural Elements has some weaknesses. There are two interesting main threads here but they are not well woven together. Joan and Eloise are mother and daughter; Eloise feels a bit guilty about packing Mum off to a home, and her hard-driving push to reap huge, if illegal, profits in her business is partly motivated by a desire to pay for Joan's care. Beyond that, the two lives seem curiously separate; each character appears determined to live her own life unaffected by the other.
Finally, Mason's occasional references to the war in Iraq and Abu Ghraib may serve to give vent to his personal views but have no connection to the development of the story.
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