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ONLY WITH THE HEART by Sherri Szeman

ONLY WITH THE HEART

By Sherri Szeman

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 1-55970-538-8
Publisher: Arcade

A compositionally complex melodrama about Alzheimer’s that offers a few powerful insights, though by end is as wearying as is the caretakers’ heartbreaking duty.

Divided among three narrative voices—victim Eleanor Sloane’s; her son Sam’s; and daughter-in-law Claudia’s—the work takes these different perspectives of the events and creates, if not a cohesive whole, at least an attempt at suspense, as the story centers on a murder trial. Claudia is charged with the murder of her mother-in-law, and her voice quickly slips in and out of the past in a fractured narrative of memory and psychiatric testimony as she recalls both her tragic foster-childhood and her happiness in marrying Sam and gaining a mother in Eleanor. When her disease progresses, Eleanor moves in with Sam and Claudia, who become her caregivers, an arduous task for Claudia, who has suffered numerous miscarriages, presumably from the stress of watching Eleanor’s tragic deterioration. By far the most compelling section is the one narrated by Eleanor herself. Without the trope of the murder trial as a distraction, newcomer Szeman attempts to relay the scattered mental ramblings of a sufferer from dementia, bringing into focus the constant fear and frustration of slowly losing one’s mind. Eleanor attempts suicide a number of times, but her disease is too far progressed for her to concentrate adequately, and her cries for help, or “sleep,” as she is doomed to repeat to Sam and Claudia, go unanswered, not understood. The last narrative is from Sam, who describes the trial, though by this time the verdict as to whether Claudia served an overdose of drugs to Eleanor is of less interest than the outcome of Sam and Claudia’s marriage, threatened by the trial, potentially saved by her surprise pregnancy.

An uneven debut: poignant when dealing with the ravages of the disease, tiresome when it slips into the device of the trial.