Olive Kitteridge — an Alzheimer’s book review

Let me say right from the start that I have not read the book Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.  If you’re looking for a legitimate review of this book, there are a number of them out there.  Here’s a blogger review from someone who loved the book — it’s by Booking Mama, Julie P. (click on the word “review”).  And this one, by Emily January Peterson, was interesting on the nay side  (click on “one”).

As I said, I didn’t read the book.  Yesterday, however, my mother picked up a copy of the book.  I couldn’t type fast enough to get everything she said about it.  Her general tone was negative.  And, to be honest, I’m not sure she read the book either.  She flipped through and commented.  Here’s what she had to say,

All the stories are coming to me.  When they do something wrong it comes back immediately to me.  And I don’t want that.  I’m never for something like that.

Here’s one called “Criminal”.  I don’t like that.

Here’s one called “Tulips”.  That’s not my story either.

It just says, “A raccoon had made his way inside…” and then it goes on and on and I’m not going to read the whole thing.  It makes me annoyed when mothers tell other people what to do.  I don’t like it.

“Ship in a Bottle”  Yes, I’ve had one of those.  People send them to me and I play with them.

“Security”  What do you know about that?  I don’t know who’s telling them that they can have security.  We have all sorts of stories that come out from books that I don’t like because they’re not telling the truth.  If they know what they’re talking about they’ll tell you the truth.

Okay.  We’re up to another page.  It says, “Criminal”  Do you want them to hear about criminals?  That’s not at all what I wanted to hear.  A story about criminals.

It’s one thing if they tell you how to do these things to make a nice whatever.  But they won’t tell you.  She is not going to play the game.  They keep changing how they do these things and I don’t like it.

My mother was in such a negative mood yesterday and the voices in her head seemed to be talking louder and louder.  I found myself wondering if someone has ever studied the similarities between a schizophrenic brain and an Alzheimer’s brain.

I searched it, and actually found an interesting, albeit brief, discussion of that very thing on a brainmeta.com forum.

An even more interesting site was one that compared Autism, Alzheimer’s and Schizophrenia called autismhelpforyou.com.  This was filled with fascinating information for a former psychology student to read, especially when they give a critical lesson in history about the naming of diseases.

I knew that schizophrenia literally means “split mind” which makes many people think it deals with multiple personality disorder, but a more accurate translation may be “fragmented mind” — a mind that can’t sort out what’s real and what isn’t.  All the pieces don’t connect anymore.  I think that pretty much describes Alzheimer’s.

She’s fragmented.  There are parts of her that I still recognize as my mother.  There are parts of her that still recognize me as her daughter.  But everything is in little broken pieces.

We looked at a photo album yesterday.  She couldn’t recognize her mother in one photo which showed her full face, but on the same page, she readily identified her mother in profile.

She knew a napkin ring engraved with her initials was hers — “EHP” — and she proudly showed it to me several times.  But she couldn’t tell me what any of those initials stood for.  She gave her evasive, coy answers when I asked her.  I helped her through, telling her the “E” was for Elinor and what the “H” stood for.  When I got to “P” I gave her an incorrect answer, which she knew was incorrect.  She just couldn’t tell me the right word.

Fragmented.  A fragmented mind.

The really interesting thing about Olive Kitteridge is that it doesn’t tell a story in the traditional sense.  It’s a series of short stories that tell a whole story of the main character’s life.  In essence, it’s a bunch of fragments.  One reviewer said this about the book:

The copyright page for Olive Kitteridge shows that many of its chapters were published alone over more than a decade.  This feeling of discontinuity–or rather, a forced continuity–is apparent throughout.

Hmmm…. a book with a feeling of discontinuity, that is almost a mosaic, pieces and fragments, put together to tell a story.  I don’t think my mother could have chosen a better book for her Alzheimer’s book review.

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