A Wisconsin college student becomes a caretaker for a victim of Lou Gehrig’s disease and forms a tender, surprising friendship in this fresh, accomplished first novel.
Becoming a caretaker for a mid-30s woman paralyzed by ALS requires someone with perhaps more maturity than the college junior Bec, who applies for the part-time job. Bec tries hard to learn how to wash and groom her diminutive, wheelchair-bound employer, Kate Norris, who can’t move except to turn her head and whose mostly intelligible speech is interpreted by her seemingly devoted husband, Evan. Bec is awkward at first in their spacious, colorful home, but quick to learn, and she’s never short on compassion for the lovely, cultured Kate, who is degenerating at a sickeningly fast pace. When Kate comes to the alarming decision to ask Evan to move out of their house because he has developed another relationship, Bec feels Kate’s betrayal viscerally, as her own boyfriend of several months, Liam, a literature professor at her school, is married and sees Bec only on the sly. Over the several months that Bec works for Kate, Bec learns to cook, choose wine, throw dinner parties and do other grownup things that have eluded her while studying advertising and sharing a house with her party pal, Jill. The friendship between Bec and Kate strengthens to the point at which Bec actually becomes Kate’s voice. The novel moves deliberately to the inevitable death of Kate, yet Bec’s advocacy on behalf of her friends allows the end to feel more like a beginning—even a celebration. Wildgen’s attention to detail demonstrates impressive maturity and skill.
No cheap tear-jerker here, but a novel that tackles challenging material with honesty and a clear eye.