A debut novel depicts the plights of four troubled siblings brought together by the tragic onset of their mother’s Alzheimer’s disease.
Elizabeth Miller is the youngest of her siblings, a child of divorce, and the apple of her mother’s eye. At the age of 34, she begins to notice an unusual change in her mother’s behavior and personality. While not especially close to either of her two sisters, Teri and Jessica, or her brother, Tom, she brings her siblings together to discuss her concerns. They agree that their mother, Janice, is clearly becoming more forgetful, repetitive, and hostile but hesitate to jump to any conclusions, blaming it on the natural aging process. But as Janice’s condition steadily worsens over the next few years, and as her children slowly begin to accept the terrifying problem at hand, their cooperation becomes crucial. Compelled to work in their mother’s best interest under extreme stress, the siblings see the ugliness of internalized family drama and long suppressed emotions surface. As Janice slips away into a vegetative state, Elizabeth learns a family secret that forces her to re-evaluate her mother’s character, shaking her to the core. Wheeler’s gripping novel is ambitious in the way it tackles the heavy subject matter of losing a parent to Alzheimer’s disease. At the center of the narrative is the obvious tragedy: the slow, merciless death of Janice and the horror her children endure as they watch their mother’s mind deteriorate. But another layer of complexity is added to the saga through the family’s back story, giving the reader insight into why Elizabeth, Teri, Jessica, Tom, and Janice act the way they do. The author details Janice’s difficult upbringing during the Great Depression in Nebraska, giving depth to the quality of her perseverance and will to survive. Wheeler also addresses the damaging effects of divorce on young children and proposes that no family is broken up into black-and-white “good” and “bad” members, a fact that Elizabeth finds particularly difficult to accept when she learns her mother’s long-kept secret.