The Last of His Mind is not a laugh a minute. But if it’s not a fun read, perhaps it’s an important one. The subtitle, “A Year in the Shadow of Alzheimer’s,” acknowledges the subject matter as that terror hiding in our closets. We, or someone close to us, will outlive our mind. The value of this book is in its engagement with the demon, bringing it to recognizable size and letting us know how one man met his father’s diminishing abilities. That fact that father had abilities of considerable strength is important.
The loss is not trivial, and the contrast between then and now is immense. Not all of us could do what John Thorndike did, which was to take care of his father in the final, dim year of his life. We might not be able to do it emotionally — the strain is real — or practically, as we have our own lives to get on with. Thorndike, a writer living alone, could leave his house in Athens, Ohio, in order to return to his childhood home on Cape Cod. Making arrangements to do so, Thorndike wonders if the prospect ahead is really a good idea. As it works out, some days the answer is yes and some no, but in the end he knows it was the right thing. What the reader learns from this intensely human experience is that relationships persist, alter, and even satisfy despite bleak situations. There had been failings on the part of both father and son, in their more ordinary days. Surprisingly, some of that is healed. If you should find role reversal with a parent has taken a truly awful turn, Thorndike’s experience could be a strength. Even if such a situation is outside your lucky life, his book will help you understand parent-child relationships in an honest but ultimately affirming way. Grade: A-