By Stuart Nulman
An Absent Mind by Eric Rill (Avante Press, $17)
Since the first patient was diagnosed with a certain form of dementia by German physician Dr. Alois Alzheimer in 1906, this dreaded disease that severely attacks and deteriorates a person’s cognitive and intellectual capabilities, and forever carries Dr. Alzheimer’s name, now affects over 35 million people around the world.
On the surface, many people know how Alzheimer’s Disease virtually destroy the patient who is unfortunate to be diagnosed with it; however, the side of this disease that is not so well known is how it indirectly affects the people who are part of the patient’s life … the husbands, wives, sons and daughters, and relatives who have to deal with a family member who are afflicted with the scourge of Alzheimer’s, especially those who are thrust with the responsibility of being one of, or the sole, caregiver. They are the uncounted casualties of this disease.
Montreal novelist Eric Rill, whose two previous books were action thrillers, personally witnessed how Alzheimer’s Disease affected both patient and family members, as his father suffered through it for eight years. For his third novel, Rill decided to forgo the thriller and make it more personal, and give the uninitiated what the true, terrible face of Alzheimer’s is all about for everyone involved. The end result is the sobering, compelling novel An Absent Mind.
The book focuses on Saul Reimer, a retired Westmount businessman in his seventies who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s after an incident when he leaves his home one day without wearing his grey flannel trousers. What follows is a 690-day chronicle of how this diagnosis affects the entire Reimer family: Saul, his wife Monique (who ends up being the primary caregiver), his daughter Florence, and his son Joey (the perennial black sheep of the family, who is more concerned with his questionable business ventures than the well being of his seriously ill father).
What makes the narrative so interesting is that the story of this painful odyssey is that it’s told not from an objective narrator, but from the points-of-view of all the members of the Reimer family. Allowing such a first-hand account narrative style pervade the text gives the reader a harrowing account of how destructive and degenerative this disease can be when it strikes someone, and the psychological effects it has on each family member. You see how gradually the patient’s cognitive abilities are destroyed as the disease progresses (as well as their sense of paranoia and random aggressiveness grows); there is the feeling of isolation and hopelessness as the caregiver watches the deterioration of their loved one (especially as they become the accidental victim of their random acts of aggressiveness and abuse); and there is the double-edged sword of the involvement of the patient’s offspring, whether it be a constant sense of devotion to make their parent’s final years as comfortable as possible, or reluctance to make the effort of even paying a visit for an hour or two, with the sense that it may or not be the last time they will see their parent alive, and have the chance to resolve past issues or say goodbye as an act of finality.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking part of this book is the final third of it, when the painful decision is made to send Saul to an extended care facility when the progression of the disease has become too much to allow him to live at home and too much of a strain for Monique to remain as a caregiver. This segment of the story has a “snake pit” quality to it, as it reveals the ugly side of the final stages of Alzheimer’s, when the dementia is far too advanced, and the sadness reaches to a sense of pathos, as the family tries to brighten up each visit, as if it may be the last one, and the stricken family member has no idea what is going on.
Rill has done more than write a fact-based novel. Through the art of fiction, he has given the reader who has just a basic knowledge about this disease a harrowing, hard-hitting look at the true nature of Alzheimer’s Disease. Through the struggles of Saul Reimer and his family, An Absent Mind gives us a very cruel, yet very necessary, expose of how such a progressive, degenerative cerebral disease as Alzheimer’s affects everyone. It is both shocking and informative. And hopefully, it will shock and inform enough people to push even harder to find a cure that will eradicate the horrible devastation that is Alzheimer’s Disease.
Stuart Nulman’s “Book Banter” segment is a twice-a-month feature on “The Stuph File Program” with Peter Anthony Holder, which now has almost 150,000 listeners per week. You can either listen or download it at www.peteranthonyholder.com, Stitcher.com or subscribe to it on iTunes. Plus you can find it at www.CyberStationUSA.com, www.KDXradio.com, True Talk Radio, streaming on www.PCJMedia.com, and over the air at World FM 88.2fm in New Zealand, Media Corp in Singapore and WSTJ, St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Stuart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.