The Story of My Father: A Memoir

The Story of My Father: A Memoir

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by Sue Miller
     
 

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In the fall of 1988, Sue Miller found herself caring for her father as he slipped into the grasp of Alzheimer's disease. She was, she claims, perhaps the least constitutionally suited of all her siblings to be in the role in which she suddenly found herself, and in The Story of My Father she grapples with the haunting memories of those final months and the

Overview

In the fall of 1988, Sue Miller found herself caring for her father as he slipped into the grasp of Alzheimer's disease. She was, she claims, perhaps the least constitutionally suited of all her siblings to be in the role in which she suddenly found herself, and in The Story of My Father she grapples with the haunting memories of those final months and the larger narrative of her father's life. With compassion, self-scrutiny, and an urgency born of her own yearning to rescue her father's memory from the disorder and oblivion that marked his dying and death, Sue Miller takes us on an intensely personal journey that becomes, by virtue of her enormous gifts of observation, perception, and literary precision, a universal story of fathers and daughters.

James Nichols was a fourth-generation minister, a retired professor from Princeton Theological Seminary. Sue Miller brings her father brilliantly to life in these pages-his religious faith, his endless patience with his children, his gaiety and willingness to delight in the ridiculous, his singular gifts as a listener, and the rituals of church life that stayed with him through his final days. She recalls the bitter irony of watching him, a church historian, wrestle with a disease that inexorably lays waste to notions of time, history, and meaning. She recounts her struggle with doctors, her deep ambivalence about many of her own choices, and the difficulty of finding, continually, the humane and moral response to a disease whose special cruelty it is to dissolve particularities and to diminish, in so many ways, the humanity of those it strikes. She reflects, unforgettably, on the variable nature of memory, the paradox of tryingto weave a truthful narrative from the threads of a dissolving life. And she offers stunning insight into her own life as both a daughter and a writer, two roles that swell together here in a poignant meditation on the consolations of storytelling.

With the care, restraint, and consummate skill that define her beloved and best-selling fiction, Sue Miller now gives us a rigorous, compassionate inventory of two lives, in a memoir destined to offer comfort to all sons and daughters struggling-as we all eventually must-to make peace with their fathers and with themselves.

Editorial Reviews

bn.com
The Barnes & Noble Review
When a novelist is as deft as Sue Miller at underlining the great drama and humanity in the small gestures and circumstances of everyday life, analytical types might surmise that her approach serves as a filter for interpreting her world. Her bestselling The Good Mother can be read as an encapsulation of her feelings about the conflicts of romantic entanglements with child rearing; The Distinguished Guest was a roman à clef about dealing with her charismatic, difficult mother. So her decision to write about her father and his Alzheimer's-induced decline in the form of a memoir indicates the depth of her emotions on this extremely personal matter. In the years before his eventual death, Miller's father, a retired minister, became increasingly unfamiliar to -- and dependant on -- the offspring who had grown up in awe of him. Using this steady decline as a frame for her larger narrative (her father's condition progressed from intermittent forgetfulness, confusion, and strangely charming hallucinations to frightening and violent outbursts), Miller writes touchingly of her father's life, of her place in it, and of his place in hers. At the same time, she discourses about her work, and about the writer's mining her own life experiences for art. In the end, Miller leaves us with a rare result: a book that offers instruction, information, and sympathy for the adult children of Alzheimer's sufferers and real, intuitive expression about the writer's role in experiencing and recording it. Katherine Hottinger
The New York Times
Novelists, Flaubert said, disappear behind their work. It's safe to say that memoirists do not. The Story of My Father is actually more the story of Sue Miller. Is this why memoirs are so tempting to writers? Because they give us permission to be self-serving? I ask this as someone not immune to the disease: I've written one myself. To put the best face on it, memoirs are testimonials to the private life. But they may owe their popularity to contrary forces — to our contempt for the private and the personal, both of which we seem bent on defiling. We display our secrets on the Web or reveal them to Oprah, anything to dissolve them in the acid bath of public exposure. In this respect, Miller's book should be admired for its struggle between tell-all, all-the-time revelation and the virtues of privacy and reserve. And we may hope that what she hasn't told us here is being saved for a novel. — John Vernon
Publishers Weekly
Miller's first nonfiction book (after While I Was Gone; The World Below; etc.), about caring for her Alzheimer's-afflicted father, is a rare example of an illness memoir with widespread appeal. Prospective readers need not have any interest in Alzheimer's; they need only have parents of their own to appreciate this testimony's dignity and grace. Miller's father, James Nichols, started showing signs of dementia in 1986, when he was picked up by the police after ringing a stranger's doorbell in the middle of the night, announcing he was lost. Miller's careful recounting of James's slow demise and progression through the various stages of an assisted living community are punctuated by pleasant memories and even humor, e.g., when James, a retired religious scholar, assesses his surroundings and comments, "No one ever seems to graduate from here." As she recalls childhood stories and family memories, Miller simultaneously offers a memoir of her own development as a writer. "[T]his is the hardest lesson... for a caregiver: you can never do enough to make a difference in the course of the disease," Miller writes. "We always find ourselves deficient in devotion.... Did you visit once a week? you might have visited twice. Oh, you visited daily? but perhaps he would have done better if you'd kept him at home. In the end all those judgments, those self-judgments, are pointless. This disease is inexorable, cruel. It scoffs at everything." 11 photos. BOMC alternate. (Mar. 19) Forecast: Miller's popularity among women readers of literary works-many whom are probably dealing with aging parents themselves-could shoot this one onto bestseller lists, and Knopf shouldn't have trouble selling out its 75,000 first printing. Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This first nonfiction work from novelist Miller (The World Below) is a thoughtful remembrance of her relationship with her father, especially during his later years, when his memory loss caused by Alzheimer's became apparent. It is also a meditation on the meaning of writing in her life. A clergyman and church historian, James Nichols was an occasionally absent but always attentive father during Miller's childhood. Although father and daughter grew apart as she struggled to launch her writing career, their bond rekindled as Nichols's memory impairment became evident and his independence declined. After his diagnosis, she helped him restore an old house and found him assisted living and then nursing home care as he gradually disappeared into a world of hallucinations and delusions that turned increasingly violent. Near the end of his life, Miller realized that "my father's illness would be progressive, no matter what I did. You can never make a difference in the course of the disease." After ten years, many false starts, and two more novels, she finally completed this memoir. While writing enabled her to "snatch him back from the meaninglessness of Alzheimer's," it also deepened her understanding of what her father's disease and death meant to him. More reflective than Eleanor Cooney's Death in Slow Motion, this includes little of the medical information found in Charles P. Pierce's Hard To Forget: An Alzheimer's Story. Miller's very personal account is a marvelous addition to the growing literature of Alzheimer's memoirs and will appeal to fans of her novels as well. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/02.]-Karen McNally Bensing, Benjamin Rose Lib., Cleveland Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In a perfectly pitched memoir, novelist Miller (The World Below, 2001, etc.) movingly depicts the bittersweet emotions provoked by the toll Alzheimer’s exacted on her father. He was an ordained minister and had taught Church History at the University of Chicago and Princeton. Unlike Miller’s volatile, self-absorbed mother, who took greater pleasure in privacy than in maternity, her father was quiet, reserved, and fond of spending time with his four children. He read to them, taught them outdoor skills during their summers in Maine, and had a great gift for listening, giving their conversation his "full, generous, disinterested attention." After the author became a parent herself, she grew closer to her mother, who died suddenly, at the age of 60, in 1979. Miller resumed her old intimacy with her father, showing him her short stories, which were beginning to be published and spending summers with him in New Hampshire fixing up the house he had bought there. In retrospect, she recognizes that he already had Alzheimer’s. He confessed to being unable to read or write since his wife died, but Miller attributed those symptoms to depression. He wore the same clothes often, but he had always been an abstracted man, caught up in the world of ideas. Six years after her mother died, Miller got a phone call from the police, who had found her father wandering around the countryside in western Massachusetts. He was clearly disoriented, and his children realized he could no longer live alone. Miller eventually became responsible for him, visiting almost daily at the nursing home and monitoring his care. She affectingly details his long decline as well as what is known about Alzheimer’s. Writing thismemoir, she finds, brings her consolation; her father, she realizes, had never needed it because of his faith: "for him his life and death already made sense." A loving and eloquent tribute from a talented daughter. (11 photos) First printing of 75,000; Book-of-the-Month Club alternate selection
From the Publisher
“Deft, sincere and eloquent. . . With the care, restraint, and consummate skill that define her well-crafted and bestselling fiction, Sue Miller has now written a beautiful, compelling memoir about her father and his downward spiral into the demonic grasp of Alzheimer’s disease.”
—San Francisco Chronicle

“Stunning. . . A remarkable yet self-effacing testament to the vagaries of memory . . . [Miller] turns a man’s simple life and tragic death into a lively and unforgettable narrative.”
—Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Deeply affecting . . . Like any memoir, this one is a way of bringing its subject back to life. . . . [This] beautifully written little book takes on the narrative power of first-rate fiction.”
—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“Beautifully written . . . Style and story are so seamlessly fused, and so perfectly balanced, that true clarity emerges."
—The Boston Globe

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780375414794
Publisher:
Knopf Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/11/2003
Edition description:
1ST
Pages:
192
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 9.52(h) x 0.83(d)

Meet the Author

Sue Miller is the best-selling author of The World Below, While I Was Gone, The Distinguished Guest, For Love, Family Pictures, Inventing the Abbotts, and The Good Mother. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Boston, Massachusetts
Date of Birth:
November 29, 1943
Place of Birth:
Chicago, Illinois
Education:
B.A., Radcliffe College, 1964; M.A.T., Wesleyan U., 1965; Ed.M., Harvard U., 1975; M.A. Boston U., 1980

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The Story of My Father 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the first book by Sue Miller that I have read. I work in Cambridge in outpatient psychiatry as a medical secretary so I was really impressed with her beautiful story/explanation of Alzheimer's Disease. I fell in love with her father. It sounds like they were very lucky to have each other. I can't wait to read another book of hers but I hate to see this one end. This is a book that I will buy three copies of and give them to my grown children just in case they ever have to deal with this in our family. Her father would be very proud of her.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have been a fan of Sue Millers for several years. While searching the internet to see if she had written a book I had not yet read I discovered this treasure. I was and am presently the caregiver to a beloved aunt with this dreadful disease. Her book has given me more inspiration than any other material or books I've read thus far. She tells us in her book she was seeking a sort of release or letting go and she felt her writing her fathers life story, his struggle with Alzheimers, and her role as daughter and primary caregiver might help her to find the resolution she was seeking. She has helped all the caregivers out there that will pick up the book and read it. This story is touching, real, and lovingly written by a daughter that happens to be a truly acceptional author.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am also the child of an ALZ afflcted parent. Finding out one is not alone is the greatest hope. Inspirational!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I stumbled into my local Barnes and Noble's after work earlier this week, because traffic was so bad. I figured I'd give it time to die down a bit before I finally headed home. It was either there or the video store. But, the video store was on the other side of the road. So, my choice was easy. Anyway, the very first display I encountered had Sue Miller's new book 'The Story of My Father' prominently featured. My own father was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, so the title alone appealed to me. But, after reading the dustjacket, I knew it was going home with me. Miller's very down-to-earth style of writing made the book a quick read. Indeed, I finished it just 5 hours later. And, what an experience it was! Perhaps, the book's appeal was due to the turmoil my family and I are currently going through. I could certainly identify with the theme. But, I can honestly say that I haven't enjoyed reading anything as much as I did that night. I have no doubt that 'The Story of My Father' was better than any DVD I could have rented that night. And, I actually found myself talking about it with my friends, co-workers, and family members as if it had been a feature film. ('Parts of it made me laugh, parts of it made me cry, etc.') I would highly recommend Miller's book--and not only to those who have dealt with or are currently confronting AD. Don't wait for her to write a screen adaptation!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Seems to be a perfectly honest account of her personal experience with parent's decline. Not overdone or underdone--a perfect balance in the telling of her experience. A totaly different perspective and it actually gave more information than a strictly 'self-help' book would do for someone dealing with similar situation.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I would like to get this book in Spanish, has it been published in Spanish.