“The House on Beartown Road” by Elizabeth Cohen is a memoir with an interesting premise. It follows approximately a year in Cohen’s life in which she suddenly finds herself the single parent of an infant girl and the sole caretaker of her father, who has Alzheimer’s disease. The baby is not yet a year old, Beth is 40, and her father is 80. She sees them as the beginning middle and end of life, which they are, but more specifically she sees the contrast between her daughter’s growing and learning brain and her father’s declining one.
As her daughter learns words, her father forgets them. Beth is herself a journalist, with words being her stock and trade. The role of language, the different forms of communication, and the ability of love to exist without any of it are front and center of this memoir. It is not sanitized. Beth alternately loves and hates her husband who has left her with her charges. She pities her father and sometimes pities herself. Her father’s intellect has defined him throughout his life, and now she has to look at him without that defining trait. What does she see? What does her daughter see? What memories stick, and which ones fade away and why? Anyone who has had to take care of anyone else will relate to Beth’s ever changing feelings and observations. Personally, I marveled at her ability to inspire others to help her out.
The book is called The House on Beartown Road, but some editions call it The Family on Beartown Road. I’m not sure which is the later edition, but it is the same book regardless.
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