Rill’s (The Innocent Traitor, 2004, etc.) novel gives five accounts of one family’s excruciating battle with Alzheimer’s, from the patriarch’s diagnosis until his death.
The alternating diary entries of Saul Reimer, the members of his Jewish-Canadian family and his doctor create a mosaic of a man’s painful decline from confusion and denial to an almost complete loss of cognitive function. The most immediate chapters come from Saul’s wife, Monique, as she shares feelings of grief, guilt, helplessness and regret. Despite her lifelong dissatisfaction with her marriage, Monique is steadfast in her commitment to her partner’s care, even at the cost of her own well-being. Monique’s devotion contrasts with their son’s selfish behavior. Dr. Tremblay’s observations provide well-informed background about Alzheimer’s. He identifies Saul’s case as “fairly typical, the timing of each stage approximating the median.” Saul’s first-person perspective, which offers the imagined inner thoughts of someone with Alzheimer’s, is the novel’s most salient, ambitious characteristic. The deterioration of Saul’s intellect happens gradually and believably. Rill skillfully portrays the various stages of the disease, including Saul’s paranoia, which shifts into a childlike dementia, although the random capitalization and joined words near the book’s end can be distracting. While the character development is uneven (for instance, the reader learns little about Florence, the unremarkable daughter), the multiple voices provide a welcome structure to the novel’s yearslong arc. Readers who have a loved one with Alzheimer’s might find some comfort in the novel’s insights.
Emotional, though not quite heart-wrenching, storytelling about the deterioration of identity.