Every so often, you come across a book that’s perfectly suited for the exact phase of life you are going through. When that happens, you identify so closely with the book that it feels like you’ve found your book soul mate. Interestingly, if you go back and revisit such a book years later, it can seem like a very different experience depending on how your life has changed over time. It can feel nostalgic, or silly, or so different from what you remember that it couldn’t possibly be the same. I have experienced this same phenomenon with old TV shows from my childhood. In the golden glow of memory, these shows remain the pillars of amazingness from my youth. But as an adult, watching with my adult experiences behind me, they seem so much less amazing than my memory held them.
I have the suspicion that Goodbye, Vitamin, is one such book. At this particular moment in my life, this book was so incredibly relatable that it could almost be about my life. As such, I responded to it in such a visceral way. I feel confident this is a novel anyone could enjoy, but for me personally, it was so spot on that I gave it a very high review. It really resonated with me. But even if it doesn’t resonate with you on the same levels, the writing is still fun and sharp and beautiful, and there will be something there for you, too.
Our narrator is recently jilted thirty year old Ruth. After spending most of her adult life with her fiancé Joel, even leaving college to keep the relationship going so he could pursue his medical education in another state, Ruth is left with only regret and a cold diamond ring lurking at the bottom of her purse when her fiancé decides to leave her for another woman. As Ruth looks back on the relationship, she looks back over her best years, now gone and spent on someone who ended up not being worthy of her. All that is left at the end of that road is regret and remorse for “wasting” her time and her youth on the wrong person. That sense of regret is something Ruth struggles with throughout the novel. Ultimately, like anyone in this predicament, she will have to come to terms with the failed relationship—will she let it be something that defines her as a failure? Will she be the sort of person to view her experiences as “wasted,” and dwell in negativity, or will she embrace the experience as something that, while ultimately not what she had hoped for, still ends up being a rich experience that taught her a lot about herself and about love? Can she allow herself to move forward with hope and the belief that love, though it may be short lasted, is never wasted? Never a mistake?
Ruth returns home to parse out these complicated questions, but she does so under the guise of helping her mother keep an eye on her ailing father. In reality, Ruth is in too fragile a state over her lost love to cope with the situation at home. Her father, a brilliant History professor, has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. When Ruth initially comes home for the holidays, everything appears normal on the surface. However, she starts to notice little cracks in her father’s behavior and memory. As Ruth works through the loss of her fiancé, she ultimately ends up sifting through her complicated relationship with the other man in her life—her father. Though he loved Ruth and was a great father to her, he had an affair with another woman, greatly hurting her mother, and he stopped attempting to hide his alcoholism when she left home, which really affected her younger brother. The decline of her father and the reaction to his deterioration by the rest of the family forcers her to deal with her memories of a perfect father and reconcile them with the reality of her mom and brother’s experiences.
Yet again, Ruth has to decide if a relationship must be good or bad—either a waste or worthwhile—or can it be both? Can her father have been a great father, but also be a terrible husband? In the difficulty of realizing a parent isn’t a superhero, but merely a fallible human being, Ruth is torn. This becomes increasingly difficult as her father begins to fall apart, becoming abusive and combative as he falls prey to the dementia invading his mind. For the second time in a year, she is forced to evaluate how she will let these important yet flawed relationships define her future and her sense of self. I personally felt that the novel end on a positive note, but I would be interested to see how other’s interpreted Ruth’s choices.
For me, this book was mostly about #adulting, a concept that I still struggle with on a daily basis at the age of 32. It’s about realizing that the quaint notions of this binary world that you had in your 20’s when life was easy breezy were laughably incorrect; it’s about owning up to the fact that the world is dark and scary and complicated, but also beautiful and hilarious and full of light, and that’s okay. It’s okay to hate it and love it at the same time. You can deeply regret a relationship but still see the value in what it taught you about yourself and about the types of relationships you want in your future. It’s okay to still have wonderful memories of your parents from childhood, and see their failures and shortcomings with adult eyes because now you know it doesn’t mean they loved you any less—they just did the best they could with what they had. The world was never was an either/or scenario, it just seemed that way, and waking up to that reality can be tough, but it also allows you to live (and love) more deeply.
On a personal note, this book resonated with me because I went through the exact same thing. I spent my 20’s married to a man that couldn’t love me the way I needed, and when he left me and I was alone and 30, I spent a lot of time being really angry—at him, and at myself—for wasting my best years. I spent a few years wallowing in sadness that I would never fall in love, or get to have babies, or buy a home, all because I had to start over again at 30. It was a really dark, depressing place. During this awful time, my parent suffered a heart attack and I had to really step up and start taking care of them. For the first time in my life, I was the “adult” and they were the “kid.” Seeing my parent in this new light forced me to deal with the issues in our previously strained relationship and re-evaluate my relationships as a whole. While it was a rough, dark, awful time, it was necessary, and I have come out the other side much better for it. Ultimately, I have decided that nothing was a waste—it all added to the person I am today, and I love that person. I like to believe that is where Ruth ends up, too.