THE HOUSE ON BEARTOWN ROAD: A Memoir of Learning and Forgetting

Elizabeth Cohen, Author, Elizabeth Cohen Van Pelt, Author . Random $23.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-375-50727-4

In this moving yet unsentimental memoir, Cohen chronicles the year her aging father, Sanford, suffering from mid-to-late-stage Alzheimer's, came to live with her and her baby, Ava, in a New York State farmhouse. The three endure a cold winter, Ava's teething and the ravages of Alzheimer's. Sanford, a retired economics professor, retains his physical health while his mind deteriorates, a process Cohen—a Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin reporter—describes in detail and with compassion, even as he loses the ability to know her ("I am having something of a blackout. Perhaps you can remind me who you are?"). Ava learns to walk and talk while Sanford forgets how to climb stairs and struggles with his vocabulary (when he can't remember the word "water," he substitutes "the liquid substance from the spigot"). "Daddy walks around now this way, dropping pieces of language behind him, the baby following, picking them up." Naturally, life's difficult. Sanford misses his wife, who lives with Cohen's sister on the other side of the country; Cohen's husband abandons them early on and she struggles to find help from local social services. Even though "each day arches numerous times toward disaster," the trio survives, even thrives. Cohen takes pleasure in her daughter, outings in parks, friends' and neighbors' generosity and the "memory project"—her attempt to catalogue her father's stories from his childhood, war years in the Pacific and teaching career. With splashes of humor and occasional—and understandable—self-pity, Cohen's fluid prose lifts her forceful story to a higher level, making it a tribute to her father and her family. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 02/17/2003
Release date: 04/01/2003
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