Many stories start out with a setting of a protagonist in a dysfunctional family. This novel reverses the trend. In The Worst My Life, So Far, by M. A. Harper, the core of this family, the mother and father, are completely in love. Neither parent is cheating on the other. If there is any problem at all, hinted at in the beginning of the story, it is that the mother is slavishly devoted to the husband. He is her hobby. But that is OK, mom has his total support as well. So the children shouldn’t really have any problems. Not so.
The novel has 36 chapters. The first 18 chapters are about how the characters got here, the place where the main theme of the work will take precedence over everything else. The development of all characters is presented through the lens of Jeanette, or Jeanne, or Punkin; all of these titles are the main ones used by other characters for Jeanne. The main theme of the book is the travails of a caregiver daughter, Jeanne, for a loved one. Velma, Jeanne’s mother is in a steadily descending spiral towards the end point of Alzheimer’s Syndrome. Jeanne must physically keep up with the demands of her mother’s care and mentally deal with her own feelings of having led an incomplete and possibly inconsequential life.
In her earlier life, Dad had always taken care of Mom. As the family had grown, Dad noticed that there was something wrong with Velma. He didn’t want to worry daughter Jeanne and her husband Larry, or son Rocky and wife Barbara about it. As C. Ray felt his own health deteriorating he asked Jeanne to promise him that she would take care of Velma if something bad happened. She promised. He died.
She should not have to do this alone. Brother Rocky and wife Barbara should be able to help. But Rocky works constantly trying to keep Barbara in a comfortable lifestyle so she won’t run off with her latest love interest … again. Jeanne feels bad for her brother and maybe envious of Barbara.
Jeanne could not turn to husband Larry for help. Their married life centered on his search to become a successful comedian. Failure as a comedian and forced employment in the garment industry was such a disappointment to Larry that he extended his failure to marriage. Larry had divorced Jeanne, although his parents, Sid and Nancy continued to be friends to Jeanne. Nancy frequently gave moral support to Jeanne through phone calls, but Jeanne remained stuck with the physical care.
Jeanne’s son Conrad was away at college. He appears initially very self-centered with so little contact with his mom that he was of no help to Jeanne. She even considered not going to her son’s graduation due to the demands of taking care of Velma.
Jeanne is very much a stay at home mom to her mom, Velma. She has nothing to do but think. She thinks about her life. Was it wasted or not? Is she doing the right thing or not? What about her life, doesn’t she have the right to a self-fulfilled life? Through all of this, Jeanne tries to lead a life that is not one of constantly whining. One way she does this is by reflecting on the possibilities of her life as well as the lives of other members of her family. As a result, we have a very interesting chapter about a time when Rocky and Barbara took care of Velma for a few days while Jeanne attended Conrad’s graduation. The reader does not know what happens but reads of the possibilities as they occur in Jeanne’s mind. Other than daily reflection, Jeanne copes with daily life with music. Only one type, Souza’s military marches, helps her. The marches are loud. They drown everything else out.
The most memorable chapter for me was chapter 27. The depiction of Alzheimer’s as it may be seen from inside the victim’s mind was powerful enough to evoke tears. It is one of those game- changer moments that will forever alter the way I look at this disease.