Wednesday, 9 November 2016

They Left Us Everything: A Memoir

Author: Plum Johnson
Genre: Memoir, Canadian
Type: Paperback
Pages: 288
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Penguin Canada
First Published: March 18, 2014
First Line: "The night before I turned sixty-three, I'm looking in the mirror, pulling my sagging jawline up to my ears, listening to voicemail on speakerphone."

Book Description from GoodReadsAfter almost twenty years of caring for elderly parents—first for their senile father,and then for their cantankerous ninety-three-year-old mother—author Plum Johnson and her three younger brothers experience conflicted feelings of grief and relief when their mother, the surviving parent, dies. 

Now they must empty and sell the beloved family home, which hasn't been de-cluttered in more than half a century. Twenty-three rooms bulge with history, antiques, and oxygen tanks. Plum remembers her loving but difficult parents who could not have been more different: the British father, a handsome, disciplined patriarch who nonetheless could not control his opinionated,extroverted Southern-belle wife who loved tennis and gin gimlets. The task consumes her, becoming more rewarding than she ever imagined.

Items from childhood trigger memories of her eccentric family growing up in a small town on the shores of Lake Ontario in the 1950's and 60's. But unearthing new facts about her parents helps her reconcile those relationships with a more accepting perspective about who they were and what they valued.

They Left Us Everything is a funny, touching memoir about the importance of preserving family history to make sense of the past and nurturing family bonds to safeguard the future.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

My Review: I went into this book thinking it would be an emotional journey of an adult daughter and her experience as the caregiver to her ailing, elderly parents.  Johnson writes well and helped me gained insight into the struggles of baby boomers who face caring for elderly parents, sometimes for decades. She also highlights the relationship between mother and daughter which can sometimes teeter-totter between loving and tempestuous. 

Unfortunately, I didn't feel quite the emotional impact which so many other readers raved about.  While Johnson shares some touching moments I felt the story got bogged down in the details as she goes through her parents' house and all of the items they accumulated over the years. It became more about cataloging family relics and dividing them up between the siblings. While these descriptions of furniture, pictures etc would be interesting to those within the family I can't say that I felt the same way.  Among these family relics stories about family lineage were thrown in here and there to give the reader a better understanding of Johnson's family's history.  With the focus on family keepsakes I lost interest around the half way mark and had to force myself to finish the book.  

What I did like about this book is Johnson's descriptive writing. She brought her neighbourhood in Oakville, Ontario and the house she grew up in to life with vivid descriptions.  She also doesn't hold back her honest, and sometimes hard to read, recollections of being raised by parents with very different parenting styles.  It felt like Johnson began to romanticize her parents after their death (which is bound to happen) but I couldn't shake the images of Johnson's childhood with a mother who came off as narcissistic and a father who was uptight about rules and doled out physical punishment for his children's 'own good'.

I found this book just an 'okay' read and wavered between giving it a 2.5 and a 3 star rating. I'm somewhere in the 'an okay read but not one I'd recommend' realm so I've upped it to 3 stars.  While I felt the book was well written and the author brings some interesting issues to the table regarding the care and loss of elderly parents, overall I found this book quite dry, disjointed in its telling and, unfortunately, I struggled to finish it.

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