Goodbye, Vitamin, Rachel Khong’s debut novel, tells the story of 30-year-old Ruth, who moves back in with her parents after her father is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Reeling from the fallout of her engagement with her fiancé, Ruth throws herself into finding small, significant ways to help her dad. One day, that may involve cooking massive portions of jellyfish, which are supposed to be good for memory, and on another, it may involve helping her dad’s student Theo stage classes for him to teach.
In the midst of trying to find a miracle solution, Ruth encounters the depths of her father’s imperfections, and has to come to terms with both his humanity and his newfound innocence.
This is no tearjerker Alzheimer’s story. Instead, it’s a unique take on the messy humanity and accidental humor involved in such a sensitive story. At the beginning of the book, Ruth’s dad gives her a well-worn red notebook, where he’s written down funny observations and quotes from her childhood. In turn, Ruth does the same for her dad’s senescence. The parallel between the two sets of observations is lighthearted, compelling and funny. Khong fills her prose with specific, oddball details that feel more like memoir than fiction. Sometimes the constant rattling off of interesting trivia takes away from the emotional depth of the book, but Khong pulls this off with more subtlety than fellow trivia-lover John Green.
You Should Read It If
You’re looking for a memorable book to down over the course of a plane ride or two.
The childhood quotes from her father’s notebook. At one point, child Ruth describes her lost gloves as “being shaped like my hands.”
Ruth’s friendship and chemistry with Theo is hastily developed on the sidelines, when it could have been a real heart of the book.
A very poetic case against daily contact with aluminum.
8/10. Khong has a unique, funny writing voice and an eye for the mundane details that make a story feel truly real. I hope there will be a movie.