Freshly disengaged from her fiancé and feeling that life has not turned out quite the way she planned, thirty-year-old Ruth quits her job, leaves town and arrives at her parents’ home to find that situation more complicated than she’d realized. Her father, a prominent history professor, is losing his memory and is only erratically lucid. Ruth’s mother, meanwhile, is lucidly erratic. But as Ruth’s father’s condition intensifies, the comedy in her situation takes hold, gently transforming her all her grief.
Told in captivating glimpses and drawn from a deep well of insight, humor, and unexpected tenderness, Goodbye, Vitamin pilots through the loss, love, and absurdity of finding one’s footing in this life.
Author: Rachel Khong
“What imperfect carriers of love we are, and what imperfect givers. That the reasons we can care for one another can have nothing to do with the person cared for. That it has only to do with who we were around that person—what we felt about that person.”
If you are looking for a quick read in which every single word is incredibly carefully selected—a read that will really, really tug at your heart—this is a great choice.
Goodbye, Vitamin is a journal-style chronicle of one calendar year in the life of Ruth, our protagonist. We begin at Christmas. Ruth’s fiancé has left her, not only in body but also in spirit, because she has never spent the time or effort required to discover who she is on her own. Lost, decimated, and almost hopeless, her holiday at home makes it impossible for her to continue to ignore her parents’ situation, which grows direr every day. Her father’s Alzheimer’s Disease has become a true burden on her mother, and their marriage—to which the rocky points Ruth had always been voluntarily blind—continues to be strained. Her mother asks her to take a year off and live at home to help.
“He held my hand in one of his and with the other started to build a house from the cards. He laid the foundation on my stomach, and I tried my best not to breathe. I tried to hold very still, so I wouldn’t be the one to bring it down.”
She agrees, and the year begins slowly. Ruth has always lived comfortably within her own assumptions, never straying outside the radius of the life she built just because it was the easiest one to build. But as the time passes, she allows the people in her life to pull her out of herself. Her journey of needing others while finding herself suddenly needed is transformative—and not only for her.
Her thoughts each day reflect the way we all see the world without realizing it; the small moments that are big, the harmless thoughts that eat away at us. The truths that are easier to handle if we pretend they do not exist, and the need to stop putting energy into things that won’t matter a year from now, ten years from now.
At a first glance, her words seem off-handed, but the longer you stare at them the more they say. As I read this book, I kept thinking of something I read in How to Read Literature Like a Professor (highly recommend): the author has spent way more time pondering these words than you have; if you’re wondering if they mean something, they always do. And I promise you that not a single one of Rachel Khong’s words was unintentional.
“Today I thought of what I would give to have time just stop here. You’re out of my league. I’m waiting for the day you’re going to leave me. I’d give: All the money I’ve got. My entire set of teeth. That special silver dollar your grandfather gave me and said would be worth $300,000 by the time you were in college. Any of it, all of it, just to keep you here.”
One of my absolute favorite writing choices Rachel Khong made in this book was her treatment of the middle of the year. Ruth’s father had kept a journal when she was a young child, writing notes to future Ruth to tell her funny stories about herself and note mannerisms and share quotes and express his love. I won’t give too much away, but the way Khong used this in the story was heart-wrenching and truly beautiful.
While part of me wishes some of the secondary characters had been developed a little, I can’t help but think that the themes and feelings portrayed may not have come through the same way if they had. I wanted more, but at the same time, I just know intuitively that it was exactly enough.
“I have a dream I’m King Midas but instead of gold it’s aluminum. Everything I touch turns to it. I hug my father and poof! he turns into a tin man. “I have a heart,” he says sorrowfully. “That’s not the problem.” “What’s the problem?” I ask, peering at him. He has rust-rimmed eyes. “I am always cold,” he says.”
All in all, this was a story that made me feel human. Reading it felt like self-care, cradled and precious.