Friday, December 18, 2015

The Day We Met

The Day We Met by Rowan Coleman

Claire writes in her memory book with an unsteady hand, knowing that this moment of lucidity may end at any time. The muddled "fog" inside her brain lifts for a while, so she seizes the opportunity to record precious memories for the family she will eventually leave behind. Once she was an aspiring writer. That was before her mind started to fade and gradually slip away. The pages of her unpublished book are tucked away in a room she no longer enters. Now she lives with fear and frustration in her inability to tell time or grasp the simplest of words  Just like her father, Claire suffers from early on-set Alzheimer's disease. There is no cure.

Claire is a determined, fiery, red-haired teacher with a temperament to match. Her stubborn, independent daughter, Caitlin, was born out of wedlock, and for years it was just the two of them facing life's hurdles alone. Then a much younger home contractor named Greg appeared at her door, and much to her surprise, Claire was like a giddy teenager in love. Now married and the parents of precocious Esther, Claire and Greg are a surprisingly happy couple until Claire begins to exhibit the symptoms of Alzheimer's.

History repeats itself when Caitlin reveals her own unplanned pregnancy. Claire reacts with a new sense of urgency, terrified that the Alzheimer's gene may be passed on for generations to come. Claire's Mum, often a thorn in her side, becomes the anchor her daughter needs. Much to Greg's dismay and sorrow, his wife looks at him as a stranger, unable to grasp the passion they once shared. As Claire deals with the total upheaval in her life, she finds that those she loves believe in her and will do anything to hold on to her memory.

British author Rowan Coleman wrote this touching novel based on her own life experiences. The novel wasn't born overnight, but evolved over a period of time in which Coleman contemplated the devastating effect dementia and Alzheimer's have on families. From that contemplation, Claire's story was created.

Anyone who has experienced the cruel effects of Alzheimer's disease on family will relate to this novel. In comparison to Still Alice, written in 2010, Coleman takes a different approach to the traumatic effects of this illness. Chapters of overwhelming sadness and grief are intermingled with humor and candid thoughts of a strong woman facing an uncertain future. Read through the tears to experience a superbly written book.

An emotional story about the bond between mothers, daughters, husbands, and wives; this book is a true celebration of life and love.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Twain's End

Twain's End by Lynn Cullen

"The man who does not read is no better than the man who cannot read"

Just one of the insightful quotes attributed to author and humorist Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. Beloved and admired by so many, his life story was immortalized on stage with esteemed actor Hal Holbrook portraying the icon.

Now historical author Lynn Cullen (Mrs. Poe, 2013)  reveals a distressing, little-known side of the famous writer.  According to her extensive research, (diaries, writings, and letters) he was a man riddled with flaws. Often cruel and demoralizing to anyone who crossed his path, his spoken words were vastly different than his illustrious words on paper.

The book concentrates primarily on the relationship between Clemens and his long-suffering assistant, Isabel Lyon (affectionately referred to as The Lioness). Beginning at age 25, she devoted seven years of her life to "The King".  She repeatedly endured his ridicule, bullying, taunts,and tantrums while secretly, longing for a more intimate and permanent relationship with him. Samuel led her to believe he had honorable intentions. But then he seemed to have a penchant for impressionable young women in general. Surrounded by young girls who worshiped him, they were flattered by his flowery words and subtle advances. In her heart, Isabel knew she was different somehow; that her undying devotion to him would result in marriage. How wrong her assumptions proved to be....

The years Isabel spent with Clemens included his ever-present wife, Livy. A sickly, tormented invalid, she exuded a certain "hold" over her husband.  Daughter Clara was unlucky in love and often sought Isabel's advice during troubled times. In an instant she could turn on her father's confidante, however, and treat her shamefully. Jean, the mentally ill daughter, was a constant source of concern, and it was Isabel who often soothed and comforted her, not her own father. In the end, Isabel's loyalty proved to be a fruitless endeavor.

Eventually, Isabel recognized the fact that life was passing her by. She married Ralph Ashcroft, the business manager that Clemens relied upon. The fury and wrath bestowed upon Isabel by Clemens and Clara after her marriage was unfathomable. In a 429 page tirade, the pair proceeded to denounce Isabel as" a traitor....and salacious slut".

Many might question why Isabel would tolerate such abuse over the course of their relationship.
It's certainly a valid response and one only she could answer. Isabel died at the age of ninety-four, still unwilling to speak candidly of the man she adored.