Gassner-Roberts’ debut memoir recalls a university career and years spent caring for a disabled spouse.
The author, an Austrian, met Lloyd at a barbecue hosted by her University of Adelaide student in 1975. Her first words to this American business visitor were “ ‘Would you share this potato with me?’ And it became a lifetime.” At that time, the author was 41 and not at all sure she wanted to relinquish her independence, but Lloyd—who was one of just seven Navy officers to survive Guadalcanal—pestered her for dates and proposed just weeks later. Alas, the couple only got a few good years together before Lloyd’s life-threatening stroke in 1980, which caused severe brain damage. Encouraged to talk to Lloyd during his recovery, Gassner-Roberts narrated her life for him, starting with their first date. Therefore, the first half of the book reads like a long letter to Lloyd (addressed as “sweetheart”) that loops back through her earlier life. Born in Austria, the author taught there for years before attending New York City’s Wagner and Hunter colleges on Fulbright scholarships and earning a Ph.D. at the City University of New York. Meanwhile, she also worked as a resident director at Wagner and a live-in dogsitter for Lem Billings, an advertising executive and close friend of the Kennedys. This interlude is the highlight of the book, allowing for reflections on America’s racial and civil unrest and the aftermath of JFK’s assassination. Gassner-Roberts’ career in German language education and “suggestology” research took her to Australia for 24 years. She vividly contrasts Austrian and Australian traits and traditions, particularly surrounding Christmas. The challenges of arranging day-to-day care for a disabled partner, especially after a second stroke robbed Lloyd of mobility, come through clearly. In 1998, the pair returned to Austria, where Lloyd died in 2012. The book’s individual sections are well-rendered, but the overall structure is not ideal. Adding in extra information about her career, plus unrelated anecdotes, requires a break from chronology, while dropping the second-person address halfway through (bar one late section) attenuates what made the memoir unique.
An uneven story of love complicated by illness.