Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong is about managing life’s disappointments. Thirty-year-old Ruth, “freshly disengaged” from her fiancé, moves back in with her parents. Nothing seems to be going right. She’s quit her dead-end job, her father is losing his memory, and the family has suffered an immense betrayal. But it is amid Ruth’s seemingly hopeless situation that the novel shines. Ruth tries to find little ways to fix her family’s situation: she helps orchestrate a secret graduate seminar for her father to teach after he’s been put on leave by the university he works for or tries cooking new recipes. And though her efforts don’t always turn out the way she expected (much like her life, if she were being honest), what keeps this novel from feeling melodramatic and tragic is Ruth’s perspective. She’s funny. The day-to-day is elevated with tiny anecdotes such as
“I’m walking to the library to return the DVD when a small child on a scooter shrieks at me: ‘A WOMAN!’ In case, I guess, I’d forgotten.”
Sometimes the anecdotes link up together to form longer stories, sometimes they’re memories or musings, and sometimes they’re nothing like any of those. But it’s the light touches that bring Ruth to life for me: I’m not inundated with her feelings all the time (which may be justified given everything going on her life). Instead, I’m given a strong sense of her personality and sense of humor based on the small things she observes and thinks about. Plus, I think this form is great treatment for the subject material. Throughout the course of the novel, Ruth becomes more concerned about her father’s Alzheimer’s as he forgets more and more. The novel then isn’t just her recounting the ways her life has fallen apart. Instead, it turns into a journal of sorts, either for a father who may not ever really remember, or for her and a time when remembering is easy. And it’s that narrator and those journalistic intentions that I fall in love within a few pages into the novel. Overall, it’s a quick, witty read and a tragicomedy with heart.
Goodbye, Vitamin was one of my favorite summer reads for 2017. What’s a book that never fails to make you laugh out loud? Or what’s a great book with characters with Alzheimers?