Saturday, October 29, 2016

Perfecting your Good-bye

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman

Stock up on tissues folks, because Fredrik Backman is BACK! This time, Backman gives us a perfectly formed, exquisitely developed novella (whose title is almost longer than the book itself) about a man slowly succumbing to dementia and his relationship to his grandson Noah. Together, these two go on a journey of remembering and forgetting, of fantasy and reality, where Noah's father, Ted (Grandpa's son) and Grandpa's wife drift in and out of the story.

If you've ever had someone close to you suffer and die from Alzheimer's, you might think that this book would be too painful to read. However, my father died of Alzheimer's and although I found myself moved to tears throughout this book, I also found it to be very comforting. This is mostly due to Backman reimagining his Land-of-Almost-Asleep from his second novel, "My Grandmother" with a similar idea for Grandpa and Noah.

This time, instead of building a fantasy, fairy-tale world, with creatures, villains and superheroes, Backman creates a type of shared dream where Grandpa and Noah can connect. This is an imaginary space, described as a square (as in "an open area surrounded by buildings in a town, village, or city," and not the geometric shape), which holds images and places from Grandpa's memories and past, including his dead wife. You may notice that the three generations here, Noah, Ted and Grandpa, also sounds somewhat similar to the triangle of female characters in Backman's "My Grandmother." This parallel didn't bother me, particularly because in "My Grandmother" most of the action takes place after the grandmother dies. This story, however, is about people making their way together towards an inevitable end.

What makes this so comforting is the idea of connecting two people - metaphorically, of course - together with the bits and pieces that remain of the Grandpa's memories. Some of the most touching of passages are when Grandpa is talking with Grandma or thinking of her, and then talks to Noah about her. Some of the saddest parts are when we realize that the square keeps getting smaller, along with Grandpa's losing of his memories, along with Noah's difficulty in accepting or understanding what is happening. Together, these made me feel like, despite the fact that forgetting things causes confusion and even anger in reality; maybe there are still those times when the best things from a person's live are still alive somewhere within those slowly fading synapses.

While all this sounds fascinating, what keeps this from becoming maudlin and makes it so incredible is the ethereal quality Backman instills in this little story, combined with the quiet, gentle poetry that practically floats across this narrative from beginning to end. (Oh, and by the way, that ending is so so subtle it will astound you). This is where Backman shines, and makes you want to reach out and hug him for allowing us to revel in his talent (and in the blessing that is his translator) with each new story. Unquestionably, this book deserves a full five stars, and I cannot recommend it more heartily than that.

"And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer" by Fredrik Backman, released November 1, 2016 by Atria Books/Simon & Schuster is available from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, iTunes (iBook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.
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