Title: The Good Life by Susan Kietzman
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 353 pages
Book Rating: B
Review Copy Obtained from Publisher Through NetGalley
Between workouts, charity events, and shopping, Ann Barons keeps her days as full as her walk-in closets. She shares an immaculate house with her CEO husband, Mike, and their two teenagers, Nate and Lauren. It’s a luxurious life, far from her homespun childhood on a farm in eastern Pennsylvania…which is why Ann is wary when her elderly parents ask to move in temporarily.
Ann prepares in the way she knows best—hiring decorators and employing a full-time nurse for her dementia-stricken father. But nothing can prepare her for the transformations ahead. Soon, her mother
Eileen is popping in to prepare soups and roasts in Ann’s underused kitchen, while the usually surly Nate forms an alliance with his ailing grandfather. Lauren blossoms under Eileen’s guidance, and even workaholic Mike finds time to attend high-school football games. But it’s Ann who must make the biggest leap, and confront the choices and values that have kept her floating on life’s surface for so long.
Timely, poignant, and wise, The Good Life is a deeply satisfying and beautifully written story about the complex relationships between parents and children—and the gap that often lies between what we seek, and what will truly make us whole
The Good Life is a poignant and sometimes heartrending novel about the complexities of family relationships. It is a thought-provoking story about finding out what is truly important in life and how we sometimes lose the best parts of ourselves in our attempts to get ahead. Susan Kietzman also provides an in-depth and insightful look into the devastating impact that Parkinson’s disease and dementia have on those afflicted with these life-altering diseases and their loved ones.
On the surface, Ann Barons has it all. An über rich and highly successful CEO husband and two well-adjusted teenagers. But underneath her serene facade lies a woman who can never be rich enough, thin enough or important enough. Ann’s days are spent in an alcohol induced haze and she fills her empty hours with exercise, shopping, zealously counting calories and chairing a few charities. She is disconnected from her kids and she is too “busy” to go to her daughter’s volleyball games or her son’s football games. Ann is incredibly self-absorbed, self-centered and selfish and I had a very difficult time liking her or feeling any sympathy for her.
In sharp contrast, Ann’s parents, Eileen and Sam, are down to earth retired farmers who handle life’s challenges with aplomb. Like many dementia patients, Sam has rapidly gone downhill, and Eileen is unable to care for him on her own. While waiting for an opening in an extended care facility, Eileen reaches out to her only child for assistance.
Ann grudgingly extends an invitation for her parents to stay in their guest cottage, hires a full time caregiver for them and blithely continues her shallow life. She resents her mother’s intrusion in her life and makes no effort to understand her father’s condition. Confronted with the past she has left behind, Ann plays the martyred daughter to the hilt and her drinking begins to spiral out of control.
Eileen is warm, outgoing and unfailing cheerful despite the anguish of Sam’s condition and she eagerly embraces the opportunity to get to know her grandchildren. Despite Ann’s prickly attitude, Eileen continues to try to forge a better relationship with her daughter. The dichotomy between Eileen and Ann is quite jarring and aptly demonstrates the vast differences between mother and daughter.
The dementia aspect of the story is realistically and sensitively depicted. Ms. Kietzman perfectly captures the utter hopelessness and heartbreak of seeing a loved one turn into an unrecognizable stranger. It is through this part of the storyline that Ann’s children learn compassion as they become deeply involved with their grandparents’ day to day life. The care and patience they exercise with their often confused grandfather and their loving grandmother is easily the best part of The Good Life.
While Eileen and Sam have the most impact on their grandchildren, they are also a positive influence on their son-in-law Mike and to a limited degree, Ann. Mike works long hours at the office and more often than not, brings work home with him. He is marginally more involved with the children than Ann and makes a genuine effort to get to know them. Mike is more receptive to Eileen’s home cooked meals and family oriented get togethers than Ann and he appreciates what Eileen’s presence means to the kids. Although he is aware of Ann’s drinking problem, he does little to get her the help that she needs.
The Good Life is an emotional read that resonates with authenticity. Susan Kietzman provides an unflinching and honest view of the harsh realities of dementia in a forthright and sensitive manner, and she never downplays how difficult this disease is for both the patient and their family. The novel’s ending is quite moving and more of a beginning for Ann and Mike to continue making positive changes in their lives.
The Good Life is a beautiful lesson in compassion, love and good old fashioned values that I highly recommend.