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Book Review: The Geography of Memory by Jeanne Murray Walker (3/5). Advice on how to deal with Alzheimers from 1,000 miles away.

6 Jun

I’ m embarrassed to admit how long it took me to read this book. I received it as part of a Goodreads giveaway at the end of last year and I’ve been meaning to read it ever since. One of the main characters of my NaNo has Alzheimer’s, which is the focus of Walker’s memoir, so I thought this would be a great way to inspire me to keep writing my NaNo. I think it’s worked because I’ve been able to point out some flaws in my book based on hearing about Jeanne’s mom’s disease.

Cover Image via

Cover Image via

The Geography of Memory by Jeanne Murray Walker

Jeanne never anticipated the day she’d have to take care of her mother. Wasn’t it a parent’s job to take care of their children, not the other way around? When Jeanne’s mother started showing signs of Alzheimer’s and Dementia, she and her sister took action. It was a long process to get their mother the treatment and care she needed. Their mother herself resisted along the way, insisting at times that she could take care of herself and didn’t need to help of her daughters. Jeanne lived in far away Pennsylvania and felt at times helpless to assist her sister with their mother’s care in Texas. Jeanne ended up fighting not only her mother’s illness, but with her inner demons of obligation and duty.

I’m really glad I read this book for my research. I could see the stead slip that Walker’s mother took into the disease and the ways it affected her communication. She does a wonderful job of comparing the stages of the disease and lets the reader know how sever the degradation is. As I read my NaNoWriMo draft about a grandmother with Alzheimer’s, I’m struck at how quick and jerky my character’s progression is and how I’ve inaccurately portrayed the important steps in Alzheimer’s progression. As research is discouraged during NaNo, I’m not surprised and I’m glad I have Walker’s story to provide some guidance.

I think Walker wrote about her mother in a very loving way. When someone around you is going through a trying medical condition, it can be easy to become angry; misplacing fear and frustration with the disease on the person him or herself. Maybe hindsight is 20-20 but Walker was very kind with her mother and her patience is commendable.

I liked the portrayal of Walker’s sister, Julie, who served as a primary caregiver due to her proximity to where their mother lived. I enjoyed reading about the struggle the sisters faced in their mother’s illness and how they were able to use it to strengthen their relationship. I admired Julie’s courage and strength to care for her mother and maintain her family obligations and job. She is a very strong woman.

I related to the character’s struggle a bit. When I was in middle school, my mom was in a bicycle accident and my brother and I had to help out a lot more than a 12- and 10-year-old would normally be expected to. I understood Walker’s initial confusion and disorientation about needing to care for the person who’s always cared for you. So far, I’ve been lucky enough to have both my parents with me and it looks like they’ll be around for a long time. I hope not to go through what she experienced for a long time.

Jeanne Murray Walker

Jeanne Murray Walker

Walker peppered the books with small flashbacks to her childhood that helped illustrate the stark differences between her mother of years before and the deteriorating woman she saw daily. These helped me see the change more strongly and I think helped her convey the change without hitting the reader over the head with it.

Reading about Walker’s mother moving was very difficult. It was obvious that part of what kept her centered was being in a place she recognized, but that was becoming impossible with her care needs. It was really hard to read about the emotional turmoil she went through to see her things in another space. I felt like her condition worsened more quickly at this point and it made me sad to read.

I felt a lot of hope in Walker’s book. She gave a message that even when we’re losing someone, there’s still a way to hold on to the person he or she used to be. I live far away from my grandparents and it’s hard to hear about their declining health (they’re in their 90s!). I know that even as they get older, their younger selves are still inside and will continue to thrive long past when they’re gone.

Writer’s Takeaway: Walker is a poet if one can believe the cover flap, and her prose had a lot of that poetic feel. I liked the emotional feel of this novel and I think that as a non-poet, it helped me feel more confident to use poetic license in prose. If something as factual as a memoir can be poetic, why can’t my Historical Fiction Young Adult novel?

I really enjoyed this book, but it didn’t grip me. I found the beginning a bit slow and kept finding myself reading something else. The ending was tight and well constructed and kept my attention. Three out of five stars.

This book fulfilled ‘Texas’ for my Where Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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Related Posts:
the geography of memory | Melissa Reeser Poulin
Bearing witness to hope when memory fails | Adele Gallogly