Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Story of Forgetting

Thanks to breakthroughs in medical technology, it is not unreasonable for people to expect to live well into their eighties or even past ninety years of age today. But, precisely because medical science can keep our bodies alive longer than ever before, more and more families are forced to deal with the impact of Alzheimer’s disease. And despite the disease’s near epidemic numbers since the seventies there is still no cure for it as it continues to devastate families in ever increasing numbers.

There is no doubt that Alzheimer’s impacts some families more than others, a fact of which Stefan Merril Block is well aware since learning that nearly every member of his mother’s family has suffered from the disease. The Story of Forgetting, Block’s debut novel, tells the story of the Haggard family, a family like his own that has endured the horrors of Alzheimer’s disease generation after generation.

Block tells his story through the eyes of two very different people who have more in common than either could ever imagine. Seth Waller, an introverted Austin high school student, is enduring the loss of his mother who has been diagnosed as a sufferer of a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer’s and has been placed into a nursing facility that can provide her the constant attention that she needs. Abel Haggard, who lives alone on a decaying farm north of Dallas, has lost his twin brother to the disease and wants nothing more from life than to be left alone while he waits hopefully for the return of the daughter he has not seen in decades.

Seth knows nothing about his grandparents because his mother and father have never spoken of the time before they found each other. But a combination of his sudden realization of the importance of his mother’s genetic history and his own internet hacking skills starts the fifteen-year-old on his own “empirical investigation” to learn about his mother’s family, an investigation that brings him closer and closer to the ultimate truth.

The Story of Forgetting is a touching and informative portrayal of the destructive power of Alzheimer’s disease. Stefan Block describes Alzheimer’s patients with remarkable sympathy and clarity and offers insights into the disease from the points-of-view of both the patients themselves and of the family members who must deal with the impact of the disease on their loved ones. He very effectively ties the separate stories of Seth and Abel together with interspersed episodes from the fantastical tale that has been passed from generation-to-generation by the Haggard family, the story of Isidora , a land “free from the sorrows of memory,” helping to make this a powerful debut novel.

Rated at: 3.5

10 comments:

  1. Sounds like a good, but very sad novel. One of my dad's grandfathers had Alzheimer's, and I know it was very difficult for his family.

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  2. I'll have to steel myself and read this. Six out of nine in my mother's family developed Alzheimer's--two died young, so no one knows if they'd have developed it, and my only living aunt who doesn't have it thinks she's getting it. It is my greatest personal fear.

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  3. Like Susan, this is a terrible fear for me as well. My father, his mother, and two of his sisters have suffered from this disease. I don't think I can deal with The Story of Forgetting right now, but hope that at some point I can because it sounds very good. Books are a good way to work through difficult times, but at the moment it is just too close to home.

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  4. What a lovely-sounding take on the topic. Losing my memory is a terrifying thought for me; I fear it more than actual death.

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  5. We've been fortunate in our family, Eva, with only one grandmother who was getting a touch of senility when she died at 97...but I've seen it devastate the in-law side of my family and it is tough to watch.

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  6. That is scary, Susan, so I can well understand why this book might be difficult for you to handle. It pulls no punches about the disease but it does manage to keep from slipping into something too terribly morose in the end.

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  7. Jenclair, this kind of thing is my biggest fear, too. It might not be so bad if a person would just wake up with no memory one day. It's that slow slipping away, while being aware of what is happening, that is so painful for me to contemplate.

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  8. Heather, I feel the same. I would prefer death to living like that, as I'm sure most of its victims would agree.

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  9. I just finished reading this book- and as weird as this sounds, it is in a way a positive look at the living with the disease. Someone he is able to add humour and a kind of grace to such a terrible thing.

    I was amazed at this novel, and equally amazed that it was written by someone so young.

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  10. Good comments, anonymous. It was quite a serious novel for someone so young, and very well done, at that.

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