Thursday, May 17, 2012

Review| Only with the Heart: A Novel by Sherri Szeman

Only with the Heart is the story of a family being torn apart by Alzheimer’s disease. Claudia, who grew up a foster child, has finally found a family amongst that of her husband Sam. His mother, Eleanor, becomes her own mother, and everyone in the family loves and accepts her. After Sam and Claudia's marriage, however, things head downhill. Eleanor is falling deeper and deeper into her illness, and when her own husband dies, she goes to live with her son and daughter-in-law. Eleanor’s mind, and the quality of life of those who care for her, only degrades until she finally passes away. Claudia is accused of murder, and it seems that this family will never be allowed to rest, to heal.

The story is in three parts: The first is Claudia's perspective. Immediately, you notice the writing style is not at all conventional. Parts of it are a conversation between herself and her therapist. The rest is her relating her experiences. She shifts suddenly between stories, and from one point in time to the next. There is no smooth transition, it just happens.This works for the character, though. This style choice seems to give the impression that Claudia’s thoughts are fractured and jumbled, that she herself is still trying to sort it all out.

Next is Eleanor. The writing style reflects her mental state very well. She, too, shift from one point in time to another very abruptly. She is in the throes of her Alzheimer's, and then, at stark contrast, a her old self again. She, with a stunted vocabulary and a poor understanding of what is happening around her, puts us right in the head of an Alzheimer's sufferer. It’s quite incredible to see Alzheimer's depicted this way. It make Eleanors illness feel very real to the reader.

Last is Sam. He covers the trial, events Claudia spoke of, and his own thoughts. He jumps between stories as well, but it seems pointless for him, like theres no reason for it. That aside, his part really threw me for a loop. He makes you realize that just like in real life, there are three sides to every story, and only one is the truth. There is no omniscient narrator, however, and we must sort it out for ourselves. I hadn’t even considered the possibility of an unreliable narrator prior to him going over his own version of events. These conflicting stories strike me as more true to life, as everyone remembers the past differently. The novel is staggeringly real in this way.

This book is beautifully written and very touching. It depicts the harsh reality of Alzheimer’s, as well as the darker side of human nature. There is loss and tragedy, but at the end of it, hope. It’s an unconventional read to be sure, but I recommend to anyone looking for something more out of the ordinary in a book.

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