Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Review: Imperfect Endings

Summary: Zoe Carter's busy life on the West Coast with her husband and daughters takes an unexpected detour when her glamorous, independent-minded mother, Margaret, tired of living with Parkinson's disease, decides she wants to "end things." As Zoe and her sisters negotiate over whether or not they should support Margaret's choice and who should be there at the end, their discussions stir up old alliances and animosities, along with memories of a childhood dominated by their elegant mother and philandering father. Capturing the stresses and the joys of the "sandwich generation" while bringing a provocative new perspective to the assisted suicide debate, Imperfect Endings is the uplifting story of a woman determined to die on her own terms and the family who has to learn to let her go. -- Simon & Schuster

I can't exactly explain what it was about IMPERFECT ENDINGS: A DAUGHTER'S STORY OF LOVE, LOSS, AND LETTING GO by Zoe FitzGerald Carter that made me want to read it. When I read the book's description, it sounded like such a difficult book to read -- a woman's story about her mother's decision to commit suicide. Maybe I was just curious because I couldn't imagine how a daughter handles watching her mother kill herself. Or possibly, I was interested in learning more about the process involved in taking care of aging parents and grandparents. Truth be told, it was probably a little bit of both. However, I think what really sold me on this book was the author's own words about her story, "the book is not depressing and is about so much more than just my mother's death." I just knew I had to give it a try!

I swear I'm not a glutton for punishment and I do try to stay away from books that make me uncomfortable, but IMPERFECT ENDINGS was such a worthwhile read. I was deeply moved by the story, and I agree that it really is about so much more than Ms. Carter's mother's death. There were so many important themes in this book that will appeal to many readers like sibling relationships, how to deal with aging parents, how to handle loss, and how to balance taking care of your parents and your children.

There is no doubt that portions of this book were very disconcerting to read. Frankly, I had a hard time with every scene where Ms. Carter and her mother were talking about her declining health. So you can imagine how I felt about the ones where they discussed how she would kill herself. What I found pretty darn amazing about this book, though, is that it wasn't a "hard" read for me. By that I mean, I didn't find myself putting this book down and not wanting to pick it back up. I was extremely caught up in this family's ordeal and despite knowing how the story ultimately ended, I felt as if I wanted to know how Ms. Carter and her sisters were able to accept things and eventually move on. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that I didn't find this book to be incredibly sad and dark. Rather, I found Ms. Carter's story to be inspirational and quite full of life!

God willing, I will never have to go through an ordeal similar to Ms. Carter's. But who knows? I bet Ms. Carter and her sisters never thought this would happen to them either. So, I really appreciate that Ms. Carter wrote IMPERFECT ENDINGS and put her story out there for so many people. Of course this book does bring up the debate of assisted suicides for those with terminal illnesses, but it also touches upon so many issues which will touch us directly. It demonstrates some of the ways we have to deal with our aging parents and how to handle losing them, as well as how to balance our current family responsibilities with our obligations to our parents.

IMPERFECT ENDINGS is getting some terrific press. The book was excerpted in O Magazine and was a Barnes & Nobel Discover Great New Writer's pick. It was also just nominated by the MS Society in the "Inspirational Memoir" category. I definitely think it's worthy of all this attention. Despite having an incredible story, another thing that really stood out to me about this book was Ms. Carter's writing. I thought IMPERFECT ENDINGS was very well written, and I was deeply impressed with the author's honesty. In addition, I appreciated that she incorporated some humor into the story because not only did it break up some of the more troubling parts, but it also seemed to be authentic and reflected some of the thoughts and actions that a "real" family would experience in a time like this.

Since I feel that this book is very relevant to so many of us, I think it would make a terrific book club pick. I know I often times wish my group would read more non-fiction and memoirs, and this one would be a great start. There is a reading guide available which touches upon so many of the issues that I've mentioned in this review. In addition to those, you might also want to explore the structure of the book, mother/daughter relationships, emotions (or lack thereof), facades, and control.

While IMPERFECT ENDINGS at first glance does appear to be a book with some difficult themes, please don't let that deter you from picking up this book. It is a fantastic story and one that brings to light some very important topics.

Thanks to the author for sending me a copy of her book.


Sandy Nawrot said...

I think the general reaction would be that this book would be so hard to read, so I'm glad you clarified that it is indeed a read you don't want to put down. I just went off my in head there for a minute, trying to imagine how I would handle such a request. Awful! But before long, we will be in the position of caring for our elderly parents.

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I definitely would be of the opinion initially that I wouldn't be able to handle a book like this - most of the times, I cry much too hard for these types of topics. I may still give this one a go, particularly as you mentioned that it's one that you can't put down!

bermudaonion said...

This does sound like it brings up a difficult topic, that would bring up a lot of discussion at a book club. Having said that, I don't think the timing is right for me to read this book.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I don't think I could read this one! But I appreciated being able to get the highlights from your review!

Anonymous said...

MY book club just went through a spurt of reading non-fiction and memoirs so we're on a fiction run right now. When we get back to non-fiction I want to recommend this one. It sounds very powerful.

Beth Hoffman said...

I'm fascinated by this book, and though I know now is not the time for me to read it, I will add it to my list for the future. Your review is excellent, Julie!

Alyce said...

I don't think I ever would have picked this up on my own because I'm sure I would have thought it was too heavy and depressing. I'm a lot more interested after reading your review, but still haven't made up my mind.

Rebecca Rasmussen said...

This is a beautiful book, I think, even though it is also terribly sad as well :) Great review, J!

Amused said...

I have been on a memoir kick this year and this book sounds wonderful. Thanks for making me aware of it!