Thoughts on books, family, and life in one impressive package.
Never Coming Back by Alison McGhee

BOTTOM LINE: Poignant and sobering, regardless of your personal experience with Alzheimer’s it reminds you to cherish your relationships before it is too late.

Genre: Literary Fiction
Publication Date: 10 October 2017
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“When Clara Winter left her rural Adirondacks town for college, she never looked back. Her mother, Tamar, a loving but fiercely independent woman who raised Clara on her own, all but pushed her out the door, and so Clara built a new life for herself, far from her roots and the world she had always known.

Now more than a decade has passed, and Clara, a successful writer, has been summoned home. Tamar has become increasingly forgetful, and can no longer live on her own. But just as her mother’s memory is declining, Clara’s questions are building. Why was Tamar so insistent that Clara leave, all those years ago? Just what secrets was she hiding?

The surprising answers Clara uncovers are rooted in her mother’s love for her, and the sacrifices Tamar made to protect her. And in being released from her past—though now surrounded by friends from it—Clara can finally look forward to the future. Never Coming Back is a brilliant and piercing story of a young woman finding her way in life, determined to know her mother—and by extension herself—before it’s too late.”

My Thoughts: Dementia diseases like Alzheimer’s strike a cold fear in my heart as well as a sense of resignation. The men from Jim’s paternal family have all died suffering from one dementia disease or another. He has witnessed the ravages of such diseases on his grandfather and his father and knows that there is a decent chance at least one out of his five siblings will also have the disease, if he does not also carry the genetic markers for it. Of the six of them though, Jim is the only one to actually talk about possibly having it. As such, I have a heightened awareness for anything having to do with the disease and am inexplicably drawn to novels about it. Hence my reading of Never Coming Back.

As you can imagine, Never Coming Back is not an easy book to read. Tamar and Clara do not have the best of relationships, so Clara has to come to grips with the fact that her opportunities for reconciliation are rapidly disappearing. At the same time, she has to wrestle with the changes to her life, the exhausting feat it is to take care of someone with a dementia disease, and her own memories. Clara is vulnerable as such children usually are, for no matter how close or tense the relationship is with your parent, watching him or her slowly disappear before your eyes is one of the most difficult things you will experience.

For all of its innate sadness however, Never Coming Back is a hopeful novel. In her determination to heal old wounds, Clara discovers who her mother really iss and is able to see her as a person first. Clara proves it is not too late to repair relationships, just as it is never too late to come home. As a large portion of the population reaches retirement age and faces illnesses related to age, Clara’s experiences are becoming the norm rather than the exception, so her ability to bridge those gaps and reach her mother is a beautiful reminder of what is possible when it seems all is lost.

Never Coming Back is not for everyone. It is not a novel I would recommend to my husband or his family, for example, because the emotions the story raises are a little too familiar for comfort. Yet, as someone who could only observe my husband’s pain during his father’s decline, Never Coming Back provided me better insight into his emotions and experiences. In a way, it better prepared me should the day come when our fears come true.

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