Friday, November 18, 2011
Review: Bill Warrington's Last Chance
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended
Timing is everything.
The week that my grandfather passed away is the week that I decided to start Bill Warrington's Last Chance. My grandfather lost his battle with cancer as Bill started losing his grip on his sanity, slowing sinking into the chaotic and confusing grip of Alzheimer's.
There were so many similarities within the dynamics of Bill and his family when compared to my grandfather and our family that I found this book to be extremely comforting during a very difficult time.
The book centers around Bill, a crotchety old war vet who managed, many years ago, to successfully alienated himself from his children and grandchildren. Now, as he becomes aware of an encroaching, persistent forgetfulness and finds himself lost for increasing periods of time in memories of his long deceased wife, he is nearly suffocated with the need to see his kids together before it's too late.
When the family get-together looks like an impossibility - Marcy, Mike, and Nick have not only stopped talking to their father, they have stopped talking to one another as well - Bill does something drastic, something that he hopes will catch all of their attention. He kidnaps his 15 year old granddaughter April and goes on a road trip. But it's a race against time and memory - will his children decode his clues and meet Bill and April in the designated rendezvous before he loses his mind altogether?
Ok, so I confess, my grandfather never kidnapped any of us. And his memory was never a threat to us either (unless you count the fact that he was sharp as a tack and remembered every single thing we'd ever said or done that pissed him off). But he was a crotchety old war vet - he served his time on the USS Slater in World War II - and he was always threatening to do some kind of bodily harm to us if we didn't sit still and quit opening and closing the damn doors! He had his good - if not entirely inappropriate - moments too. There were the jokes that he would tell us, the can of beer held in one hand, the italian cigar in the other, rocking back and forth in his worn out Lazy-boy. He was a tough guy to love, but he was proud of his family, and though it was hard to tell, he showed adoration of the grandkids by picking on them something fierce.
Bill Warrington was a hard man to love too, yet James King managed to make him an incredibly easy guy to like. I didn't share the same things with my grandfather that April did with hers - he taught her to drive, and stand up for herself, and go after the things she wanted most in life - but that didn't diminish my ability to relate to their relationship.
As the book unfolds, we begin to discover that all of the players have secrets they don't want the others to know - typical family drama sort of issues - an arc that really pulls the reader into the fold. So many of the personality traits and hidden 'skeletons in the closet' will remind you of someone you know, or worse.. they'll remind you of yourself.
It's a multi-generational, semi-humorous look at a serious subject matter that affects more families than we dare to realize. I can only imagine the pain of losing someone you know and love to a disease as lonely as Alzheimer's. And I am not sure I can ever be convinced of which is worse... being conscious of the fact that you are losing your mind, or the blissful ignorance of it as it takes you over.
Which brings me back to my own grandfather and the last few weeks of his life as he struggled with cancer. As a granddaughter, it's extremely hard to see someone who was once so strong and full of zest reduced to a voiceless, evaporating shadow of what they once were. I can only imagine what it was like for my grandfather, a man of very little outward affection, aware of his own mortality, as we all made our way to his bedside in those final days. I have to think that, though he couldn't say it, he was hoping one of us would just get him a beer and a cigar, and stop opening and closing the damn door for crissake!!!