A friend of mine from Goodreads named Inge, who has two blogs, one about reading and the other about optimistic thinking, read this book and wrote a poignant review about how this novel reminded her about how her grandfather dealt with Alzheimer’s and while he forgot just about everyone in his family, he continued to remember and love his wife until the day he died. This review really caught my attention and I liked and commented on it, which caught the attention of St. Martin’s Press. They sent me a review copy for this novel that they plan to release in January 2016 and in exchange, I have read the book and will be presenting you with an honest review. If there is anyone that this story reminds me of most, it is my great-grandfather. He did not have late stages of Alzheimer’s, but he went to live in an assisted living facility and later a nursing home before he passed away just last month. When I think of these facilities, I think of my great-grandfather’s experience. He was in high spirits and in great hands during the two and a half years he spent in assisted living and few months in nursing care. It shows that this is a great elevation to when my great-great grandmother was in a nursing home, for the effort is placed heavily on making their residents feel as if their lives are still as precious, despite the fact that there is not so much life left to live.
The loved ones I recall being in assisted living or nursing care were older. In this novel, we follow two people that are younger and in need of medical assistance. The idea of premature Alzheimer’s and dementia has been explored in the book Still Alice, a Lisa Genova novel that was adapted into a film, and is now being explored as a bit of a love story told by Sally Hepworth. In this case, Anna Forster enters Rosalind House in Short Hills, New Jersey at the age of thirty-eight. She does this voluntarily, after her Alzheimer’s reaches a point that she becomes a danger to herself and her loved ones. Her brother, Jack, intentionally finds this home, because he heard that a younger man dealing with similar struggles resided here and she would have a peer to interact with. This peer turns out being a handsome man (to Anna’s tastes) named Luke who is two years older and dealing with dementia that leaves him with a stutter. To Anna, Luke is “Young Guy,” and they become closer and closer as time goes by, picking up the feeling that the other makes their life worth living.
Anna tells her story prior to when things are presently occurring. Her story begins fifteen months before and progresses month after month as her Alzheimer’s becomes worse and things around her are changing. The story is told during the present day by a woman named Eve Bennett that takes on the job of chef… which includes an earmark that is maintenance and her daughter, Clementine. Anna, Eve, and Clementine switch off on chapters, though not uniformly and the former two tell most of the story. This novel is as much about Anna and the rest of the Rosalind House as it is about Eve’s very own struggles. Eve’s husband, Richard, was involved in a Ponzi scheme were he falsified documents in order to collect money. Knowing that he was going to get caught, Richard went into his study while his wife and daughter were away and committed suicide. Eve and Clementine were left with the burden that was Richard’s “legacy” and were shunned by the school district and those around them in town. In order to make a living, Eve’s only opportunity is to serve as the cook as the Rosalind House. Here, she comes across Anna and learns about the story between her and Luke and while by this time they are separated due to each family’s wishes, she does what she can to encourage their unity and their love for one another.
Though she does not tell her story as often as Anna or Eve, I feel that Clementine’s story was the most interesting to follow along. Hepworth does a nice job getting into the mind of a witty seven-year-old girl and her story is just as important as the others, because she is definitely feeling the struggles that are occurring in her very own life. She loved her dad and to see that those around her are bashing him is creating a great strain on her life. She does, however, express a sense of being the center of attention at a nursing home that features an interesting group of individuals. There is Clara and Laurie, who seem like an ideal couple living at the home, but there is much more to their relationship than meets the eye. Then, quite notably, there is Bert, who is still having difficulty detaching himself from his deceased wife, Myrna. He still leaves an empty seat for her and interacts with her as one may interact with an imaginary friend. Then, those that operate the facilities include Eric, who manages the place, and Angus, who is a gardener that forms a bit of a bond with Eve.
The structure of the characters in this novel prove to be a great strength on Hepworth’s behalf. Just about every character has depth to them and provides a sense of importance to the novel. In some cases, though, this depth proves to overshadow the main concentration regarding the love that is shared between Anna and Luke. I feel that both Anna and Eve tells meaningful stories, but these stories are so strong that one would have trouble figuring out which one drives the novel. I feel that I could have gotten more of Anna’s story while getting a relatively concrete idea as to what Anna’s struggles consisted of. At the same time, Eve and Clementine’s story catches my attention in a different way. It is interesting to read about direct relatives of those that committed a crime, and a high profile one at that, and then ask “is it right to blame the relatives of bad people who were not aware of what was going on, let alone did nothing wrong?” I felt a sense of sympathy for Anna, Eve, and Clementine, but I have that feeling that a different equation could have occurred.
My other gripe involves a checklist of sorts that deals with whether or not this has what it takes to be a movie. I would say that this novel has what it takes to become a movie and I would find it quite an intriguing film adaptation. This would definitely make for an attractive movie. On the other hand, I am not necessarily interested in books that follow the “does this have what it takes to be a movie” cutout and in turn, just about every box office movie follows a cookie cutout of its particular genre. I do, however, think that this is adaptable.
I feel that for the reader that is looking for a light novel that deals with a bleak subject, but in a way that it can be taken with humor, will probably enjoy reading The Things We Keep. It has the attraction to its particular audience that The Fault in our Stars has on theirs. I preferred The Fault in our Stars not in the way that it is closer to my age group, but its area of focus is much clearer and it does not have a side story that overwhelms or overshadows. Nevertheless, it seems like Sally Hepworth definitely has the ability to create characters that possess great dimension and have stories that will certainly grab your attention and your mind.