Amy Bloom’s “In Love” book review
To handle such a heavy subject, Bloom cleverly divides the book into manageable chunks of very short chapters that are titled with a date and place, or something playful, like “Birdseed” and “Ring the Bells.”
Bloom sums up the early stages of her husband’s illness through scenes of marital breakdown – “Suddenly it seemed like we were arguing endlessly about everything” – and the most well-known symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, which in Brian’s case meant “disappearing names, repetition, information turned upside down, scrambled appointments and medications.
There are also medical charts and illustrations (mostly related to how neurologists assess a patient’s level of severity), but all scientific data is limited to that which enhances the reader’s experience of Bloom’s struggle. to honor her husband’s wish.
“I don’t want to end my life,” Brian admits in one of the first phone interviews with Dignitas, “but I’d rather end it while I’m still myself, than become less and less of a person.”
Philosophical questions about the self and ethics gravitate around the largely secular narrative without dominating it. Wisely, Bloom stays in the trenches of everyday life, where the juxtaposition of normality with what happens to her husband maintains an emotional couple for the reader, who is never asked to “wait outside” – even during the 20 minutes after Brian drank the sodium pentobarbital that would end his life.
That said, there are moments of humor. “Few months ago, [Brian] gave me a very expensive and very weird gift, a heather hoodie with a tulle trim for five hundred dollars,” Bloom wrote. “I’m still surprised I didn’t look at that sweatshirt and think, I see you have Alzheimer’s disease.”
Bloom’s technical prowess is evident in his conscription of mundane details to preface profound and sobering insights into love, marriage and death. En route to Switzerland, Bloom describes the couple’s experience at a JFK airport steakhouse. “At the Palm, Brian ordered onion rings and a rare rib eye with a side of hash browns and a Caesar salad and garlic toast and he would have ordered a shrimp cocktail, except I I whispered, as the Jewish bride of the circa 1953 scene I seem to have become, missing only my home perm and my rickrack-trimmed apron: Really? Shrimp in a steak at an airport? Brian shrugged, to say, I’m not that excited about airport shrimp anyway, and also, what could be worse?
But the worst case scenario is that he could catch food poisoning and miss the flight to Zurich – where, after months of arduous paperwork, he is expected to die in four days.
“At that he folded up the menu and looked at me as he often did now, with resigned understanding, fatigue, a bit worn humor.”
Perhaps the two most difficult issues for Bloom as a wife appear at opposite ends of memoir. The first is, if Dignitas refuses assistance, what alternatives are available? The author recounts how she contemplated drowning, obtaining fentanyl from a drug dealer, self-choking, and VSED (voluntary suspension from eating and drinking), which in the her husband’s case (a former Yale football player), could take up to a month. . “The right to die in America,” according to the author, “is about as significant as the right to eat or the right to decent housing; you have the right, but that does not mean you will get the goods.
The second dilemma is how to inform the children, siblings, grandchildren, even Brian’s elderly mother, who turns out to be an unexpected ally. Disclosures to friends and relatives lead to unusual reactions.
“Brian’s dearest friend, his fishing buddy since 1979, said to Brian, ‘If you think you don’t need to go now, and you want to wait a bit, I can just kill myself, in a year or two, in a field.’ Brian takes him in his arms.
Is this a coping mechanism or a practical solution? Bloom always leaves ample room for readers to make up their own minds.
The most powerful scenes occur, naturally, in the final chapters. The reader knows the end is near, but when it does, the fact that it still feels like a shocker is a testament to Bloom’s clear, lyrical prose on a subject that would paralyze many of his peers.
As with all great books about death, “In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss” does not terrorize with grim statistics and warnings, but rather de-stigmatizes euthanasia and enriches the reader’s life with urgency and gratitude. It renews those joys of being “In Love” with the people around us – despite the numbing effects of routine and familiarity that so often wipe out happiness in middle age.
Simon Van Booy’s latest novel is “The night has come with many stars.” His next book, “The Presence of Absence,” is slated for release in early fall.
A memory of love and loss
Random house. 240 pages. $27