Synopsis from the publisher:
Abel Haggard is an elderly hunchback who haunts the remnants of his familys farm in the encroaching shadow of the Dallas suburbs, adrift in recollections of those he loved and lost long ago. As a young man, he believed himself to be “the one person too many”; now he is all that remains. Hundreds of miles to the south, in Austin, Seth Waller is a teenage “Master of Nothingness” – a prime specimen of that gangly, pimple-rashed, too-smart breed of adolescent that vanishes in a puff of sarcasm at the slightest threat of human contact. When his mother is diagnosed with a rare form of early-onset Alzheimers, Seth sets out on a quest to find her lost relatives and to conduct an “empirical investigation” that will uncover the truth of her genetic history. Though neither knows of the other’s existence, Abel and Seth are linked by a dual legacy: the disease that destroys the memories of those they love, and the story of Isidora – an edenic fantasy world free from the sorrows of remembrance, a land without memory where nothing is ever possessed, so nothing can be lost.
Through the fusion of myth, science, and storytelling, this novel offers a dazzling illumination of the hard-learned truth that only through the loss of what we consider precious can we understand the value of what remains.
This was quite a remarkable debut novel. I’m not sure why I picked it up – probably something about the title struck my fancy – but once I started reading I could barely put it down. There are actually four intersecting narratives in the novel – Seth’s story, Abel’s story, the story of Isidora, and the story of Seth’s mother’s genetic history. I realize it sounds complicated, but the pieces fit together beautifully.
It was really Seth’s story that resonated with me so deeply. A young boy, just trying to figure himself out, suddenly has to deal with a mother who is disappearing. He loves her, and doesn’t want her to leave, and yet feels guilty because he hates visiting her in the assisted living home, where she sometimes knows who he is, and sometimes can’t even remember her own name. Block captures this young man’s struggle perfectly, and I was captivated by his story.
Block also illustrates the devastation of life with early-onset Alzheimers very well. I feel like I am painting this novel as fairly bleak, and while really, really sad things happen, it doesn’t feel like a sad novel. It was quite funny in parts, and lovely in others. Mostly just a great read – I recommend it!
Source: Franklin Avenue library
Reviewed by: Elizabeth