Only with the Heart

Sherri Szeman, Author
Sherri Szeman, Author Arcade Publishing $24.95 (272p) ISBN 978-1-55970-538-7
Paperback - 323 pages - 978-1-55970-595-0
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-1-61145-203-7
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Alzheimer's disease claims more than its victim in Szeman's (The Kommandant's Mistress) delicately structured, poignant novel of love, memory and family responsibility. In and out of foster homes all her life, Claudia Page is 13 when she is finally adopted by a smalltown family. She loves her new mother, Grace, and older brother, Roger, but only when she becomes engaged to Sam Sloane, Roger's best friend, does she feel she really belongs. Sam's mother, Eleanor, welcomes Claudia as the daughter she never had, expressing her love by sharing bits of remembered songs, old photographs and heirloom jewelry. But early on, Eleanor is diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and she becomes increasingly confused, confrontational, forgetful, morbid and violent. When Sam's father dies, Claudia and Sam decide to care for Eleanor themselves, little suspecting how difficult it will be and how their marriage will suffer. After years of their devoted care, Eleanor is found dead of an overdose of prescription pills. Although Sam and Claudia admit that each had occasionally hoped that Eleanor's misery would end with her merciful death, neither is prepared for the ensuing nightmare. Seizing on circumstantial evidence, a power-hungry DA brings Claudia to trial for the murder of her mother-in-law. The story is told from three points of view: Claudia reveals her feelings through sessions with her psychiatrist; Eleanor shares the terror of living inside her own head; and Sam tells his tale through memories dredged up during the trial. As the narrative flits back and forth through time, it becomes clear that neither Sam nor Claudia is an entirely credible witness. It is a credit to Szeman's artistry that perhaps the stricken Eleanor is the most reliable narrator. Though somewhat dated in tone and vague when it comes to specifics of place, the novel is dead-on in its depiction of the destructive power of a disease that can devastate a family. Agent, Jennifer Hengen. (Sept.)
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