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Never Coming Back

Review

Never Coming Back

"My mother was disappearing and everything I should have resolved with her --- everything that I must have thought there would be time to resolve, decades hence --- was not resolved. Did I know my mother? Did she know me?"

These thoughts very succinctly sum up the central theme of Alison McGhee's haunting dramatic novel, NEVER COMING BACK. Like nearly every family, there are secrets. However, for most families, these secrets ultimately are brought to light. What if that doesn't happen? What if you lose the secret holder before he or she is able to confess what has been unspoken? This is the mostly private hell that Clara Winter is faced with when she comes to the realization that she is rapidly losing her mother, Tamar, to Alzheimer's.

Set amidst the beautiful and haunting backdrop of upstate New York's Adirondack mountain range, NEVER COMING BACK is as striking and powerful as its setting. Clara is in some ways the Prodigal Daughter. She left Tamar's household many years prior to make her own way in the world and became a fairly successful writer. Or, as Clara remembers it, she was forced out of her home. Banished and then beginning her adult life on her own, Clara has never been able to come to terms with the possible motive behind her own mother driving her away.

"NEVER COMING BACK deftly attempts to explain that unbreachable chasm that seems to belong to just mothers and their daughters. Furthermore, it explores the pain and horror that is dementia."

One major reason for Clara’s departure was the love of her life, Asa. Asa began to have his own personal relationship with Clara's mother during their high school romance, and not long after that, he inexplicably broke up with Clara. She never understood why this happened and blames her mother in some way for potentially being the cause of it. When Clara receives a call from Tamar informing her that Asa was killed fighting for our freedom in the Middle East, she is devastated. She turns to a life of books. Books become her brick wall against the outside world she can no longer deal with. Writing becomes her solace.

The only anchors Clara has are her best friends from college, Brown and Sunshine. They are a permanent couple and may be the only people who remember Tamar before she started to lose her memory. Unfortunately, they only remember the good things between mother and daughter, and cannot believe Clara's claims about Tamar destroying her relationship with Asa and chasing her away from her home in the small town of Sterns.

Clara has grown to accept loss as a way of life. She never knew her father as her mother had been raped prior to conception. She was supposed to be part of a twin birth, but her twin sister died in childbirth. Clara tries to get answers about Tamar and her motives from her best friend, Annabelle, but Annabelle is not terribly forthcoming. She then begins to panic about the familial genetic disposition for Alzheimer's and prepares to go through a painful procedure to get answers about this. But for Clara, it's not so much about possible gene mutation as it is about self-preservation. She already has lost so much but cannot live with the knowledge that she may eventually lose her own mind at an early age.

NEVER COMING BACK deftly attempts to explain that unbreachable chasm that seems to belong to just mothers and their daughters. Furthermore, it explores the pain and horror that is dementia. There are not many horror stories out right now that depict a worse plight than those that families of dementia patients go through. Watching someone you love disappear, mentally, before your eyes is a powerless feeling I do not wish on anyone. For the purpose of this fictional tale, it also shows how certain unspoken secrets can be lost to the demon of dementia; as a result, old wounds may never heal.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on November 3, 2017

Never Coming Back
by Alison McGhee

  • Publication Date: October 10, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • ISBN-10: 1328767566
  • ISBN-13: 9781328767561