Tangles – Sarah Leavitt (2012)

Tangles - Sarah LeavittA movingly portrayed description of how the author’s mother, a smart woman who “loved ferociously”, succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease and how her family coped with it. Done in sequential art, each segment of the graphic novel is carefully drawn and is really a very effective means of allowing the reader to experience some of the family’s thoughts and feelings as the disease progresses in their mother.

This is a poignant book and not very easy to read at times, especially if you yourself have a vibrant active mother, as it’s difficult to watch her go downhill as the disease progresses. Despite this, it completely sucked me in and I read it in one afternoon. It was so sad to watch as Alzehimer’s removed the original character of her mother, and replaced it with an unpredictable stranger who looked just like their mom (for most of the time).

The title “Tangles” refers to several things really:  her mother was an avid gardener, but as Alzheimer’s progressed further, the mother would pull out weeds and her flowers at the same time, and gradually, her prized garden became full of weeds and overgrown brambles. This was also imagery used for the state of her mother’s brain, which was really effective. Additionally, her mother’s personal hygiene went downhill (due to the severity of the disease) and as her hair was not brushed regularly (without help), that also became tangled. This was especially poignant as her mother had been scrupulous with her cleanliness before she became sick.

It’s sad, but it handles an awful situation with grace and class without giving the impression of a perfect family. They had problems (as any other family would), and the story is very realistically told. I really feel for families who have to care for someone with this disease …

This was a poignant and powerful read.

Skylark – Dezco Kostolanyi (1910)

Browsing various book blogs on the interwebs is great way to come across books that are way off the best seller lists, and Skylark was one of those finds. It’s a short novel set in 1899 in a small provincial town in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Skylark is the childhood name of the spinster daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Vajkay, all of whom live a very quiet life in this quiet town. Skylark really rules the roost in this story, with both of her parents trying really hard to help her be happy as she was obviously not going to get married at any point soon, and thus, the parents’ lives revolve around her. (At this point, she is in her late twenties/early thirties, perhaps.) She is very plain to look at and suitors are not banging on the door for her.

So – Skylark is invited to go and stay with some relatives for a short holiday – it’s a holiday for Skylark and her elderly parents are very concerned that she should take it. However, having lived their lives around her for the previous years, both adults are somewhat at a loss when Skylark leaves – how would they live without her? What would they do? Would she be ok?

However, as the week without Skylark slowly progresses, her parents gradually re-introduce themselves back into the town social life: they eat at a restaurant (reluctantly at first, but then they enjoy it). They go to performances at the theater, and rejoin old acquaintances. All activities that they had stopped due to Skylark. (I am not even sure that Skylark expected her parents to withdraw from society. I think perhaps they did for her without seeing if it was even necessary. I think it was due to the fact that she had few friends and little social life, so they followed suite as well.)

After a wild night out with his old friends, the father comes home slightly worse for the wear and out come his real feelings about Skylark… But once these thoughts have been expressed, things can never be the same. Skylark returns, but to what?

The novel doesn’t actually come to a real final end – there is no clear cut conclusion to the story so the reader is left to fill in the blanks – do Skylark’s parents tell her what they were thinking? Does their new entry into society continue? How does life change? These are questions that remain unanswered.

A lovely and very quiet little book packed with details of incidental life in a small town of people who live small lives where every detail counts.  This could have been a depressing read, but the author maintains a slight twinkle of humor throughout the story… This was a good read.

(Book was translated from Hungarian by Richard Aczel.)