“…there is a bit of magic in this author’s ability to tell a deeply affecting story with interspersed humor”
I will be honest: I don’t know how to feel about this book. Prior to picking up GOODBYE, VITAMIN by Rachel Khong, I had just finished reading a heavily literary, epic novel that was almost 600 pages, and perhaps the contrast felt a bit like culture shock. This book is only 194 pages (and I think you could shave off another 50 due to the journal-entry formatting and short, short paragraphs).
And while this novel, about a young woman’s return home to spend time with her father who has Alzheimer’s, is physically small and quite sparse on words, it does pack an emotional punch. It does so, however, amid a great deal of humor. (Hence my own confused state of mind). Alzheimer’s. Sad. Hilarious, seemingly unrelated observation. Funny. Repeat.
I have to think that the author, Rachel Khong, possesses this dry sense of humor, as well – and, as a result, I think it would be a blast to hang out with her. I truly did laugh aloud too many times to count (often worried I’d wake my sleeping husband). So there is a bit of magic in this author’s ability to tell a deeply affecting story with interspersed humor. And perhaps that IS the point: that to deal with painful situations, humans do what they can to cope—often resorting to humor to make sense of the senseless. Ruth has her own life issues to deal with, and to cope, her outlook on the world is infused with bits of humor.
GOODBYE, VITAMIN also hits painfully close to home. My father was recently diagnosed with vascular dementia, and I am planning a trip home to be with him – not altogether different than Ruth’s trek home – as the mental decline is happening rapidly (to be honest, he’s been fighting this for more than a decade). I naturally feel dread and overwhelming sadness, coupled with the sense of this trip having some kind of ‘finality’ to it. So it is no surprise that one night, after reading this book at bedtime, I awoke in the middle of the night feeling sheer panic, the reality setting in that Ruth’s life and her experiences are soon to be mine. The inevitability of the situation really sunk in.
But let me emphasize that the writing is not sensational and overly dramatic. It is sparse and doesn’t dwell. And it provides a certain amount of levity with abundant humorous events. My reaction is simply to my situation. And, in the end, I’m glad to have read this book. You can easily read it in a single sitting – possibly even in a few hours. It is engaging, with its easy-to-read, stream-of-consciousness observations, and the beauty, again, is in the author’s ability to get the reader to feel, using so few words.
GOODBYE, VITAMIN by Rachel Khong is unlike anything I’ve read before. I do recommend it.
(A version of this review was published by Melissa Crytzer Fry at GoodReads on June 28, 2017. It is reposted here with the permission of the author.)