Every once in a while, we read a novel that deals with a life event we have lived through ourselves. “I Like You Just Fine When You’re Not Around” has been on my TBR (To Be Read) stack for a few months, but I was reluctant to start it, not because I am unfamiliar with the author, but in fact, just the opposite. I was certain her honesty, wisdom, superb writing, and gut-wrenching truths would bring up old sadness. Was I ready for a visit to the not-so-long-ago past? Guess what? I wish I’d had it to read while Mom was still alive.
Ann Garvin’s “I Like You Just Fine When You’re Not Around” enters the in-your-face world of an aging parent who develops Alzheimer’s, while the daughter/caregiver simultaneously tries to live her own life. As many of you primary caregivers know, the parent’s situation usually takes precedence over anything and everyone else.
Ms. Garvin delivers her story with kindness, love, and a blinding reality check for Tig Monahan, the daughter who really doesn’t want her Mom to move into a nursing home. Tig feels guilty about leaving her in a strange place, especially since Mom seems constantly agitated/unsure, so unlike the accomplished woman she had been in younger days. If only Tig could figure out how, she is sure that her Mom could come home again and the world could go back to the way it was. Sigh… If only.
Tig’s boyfriend, a seemingly nice guy, wants her to move to Hawaii with him while he works at his dream job. Tig is a therapist, but seems stuck, unable to figure out her own life. She does quit her job in preparation for joining the boyfriend as soon as she clears up a few things. Meaning: as soon as she gets mom moved into the nursing home. And settled. Hmmm.
Tig’s sister, who has rarely helped with Mom, has a boatload of issues that spill in a huge way into Tig’s life, making it much more complex, almost destroying her in the process. Tig shifts careers before she’s ready. Does it help? Will her boyfriend ever ‘get it’? Is he what Tig really wants in her life? What will happen to Mom? Who is the Doctor/stranger at the nursing home? Can Tig cope with her Mom not recognizing her, despite knowing everyone else? The surprises, laughs, and tears keep the pages turning.
Garvin has imbued the characters with just enough edge and sass, given them realistic voices in a difficult situation, keeping Tig’s story focused on finding a better way for her and her Mom. We root for Tig to discover her place in the world again, as messy and unkempt as the journey might be. We pray for her Mom to find peace in a world she no longer knows.
“ ‘Oh, if I could tell you, I would let you know…’ ” words from the book that will stay with me forever. Unexpressed heartache, unspoken love.
In addition to “I Like You Just Fine When You’re Not Around,” Ann Garvin has written two other books. Read my review of her marvelous “The Dog Year” here.
Please visit www.anngarvin.net for more information about her work, as well as that of the Tall Poppy Writers. 🙂