Novelist Cooney (Shangri-La, 1996, etc.) paints a harrowing portrait of the devastation Alzheimer’s wreaks not just on the victim but on those closest to her.
“Hip, cool, brilliant, funny, sane,” Mary Durant was transformed by the blight of Alzheimer’s into a demented creature who nearly destroyed her daughter’s life. When it became clear that Durant’s mind was going, Cooney moved her mother from Connecticut to California to care for her. The initial plan, for Durant to live alone in a nearby apartment, proved impossible. Cooney then converted her garage into a residence for her mother, but this too became unworkable, and the long search began for an adequate, affordable live-in care facility. Durant’s violent behavior caused her to be evicted from one home and judged unacceptable by others. Even with the help of Cooney’s partner Mitch, who had once been a nursing-home inspector, finding the right place was a long and grueling process. As she chronicles Durant’s increasing dementia and its devastating effects on her own life (she turned in anguish to Valium and vodka), Cooney weaves in glimpses of happier days. Durant was a respected writer—the inclusion of an unpublished short story in the appendix is an unexpected bonus—and young Eleanor took great pride in her glamorous mother’s beauty and accomplishments. During her privileged childhood among artists and writers in Connecticut, Alexander Calder’s studio was her playroom, and Arthur Miller was a neighbor. The contrast between this golden past and a present marked by frustration, anger, resentment, and fatigue makes the destructive force of Alzheimer’s a vivid reality. Anyone assuming that Alzheimer’s victims live in a happy, mindless state will discover here that on the contrary they are often agitated, confused, miserable, and angry, and that those who loved the person he or she once was are likely to find themselves pushed to the limits of endurance.
Cooney tells it all with a fine and rare mix of black humor and bleak honesty.