"Those drawn to the honesty, realism, and fragile dynamics of family connections will find THE LAST MOON BEFORE HOME a thoroughly moving and engaging read."
- BlueInk Review (starred review)
"Dzikowski brings a steady authorial hand to this poignant and approachable family tale. Readers who have been personally affected by Alzheimer's will particularly resonate with this poignant drama about three generations of a troubled family."
-Booklife by Publishers Weekly (Editor's Pick)
"This second volume of a trilogy shows Dzikowski to be a very sensitive observer and writer. There are no missteps here, and there are wonderful character studies, especially of Walt and Leon. A complex and engrossing family tale with strong characters."
This sequel revisits a troubled family as it wrestles with love in all its beautiful and terrible forms.
The novel begins in 1973. Noël Trudeau, ex-wife of Leon Ziemny, is pregnant. Against her doctor’s dire warning, she gives birth to a daughter, Willow, and dies. Fast-forward to the late ’90s. Armed with her mother’s diary, Willow is determined to probe her past. She embarks on a trip that takes her to her mother’s grave in Willow, Ohio, and then to the Ziemnys, still in the steel town of Langston, Indiana. Old Walt Ziemny is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, but the disease soon starts moving fast. His son Ricky, an artist, never married after Noël wed Leon instead of him. That union imploded, and Leon and his second wife, Stella, have, for over 25 years, been in a marriage that died long ago. Then Willow shows up, claiming that Noël was her aunt while she tries to figure things out, test the waters. Slowly, she becomes accepted even if she is still a mystery. Eventually, an important family secret is revealed. Like the author’s previous novel, The Moonstoners (2019),this second volume of a trilogy shows Dzikowski to be a very sensitive observer and writer. Even though the old Polish neighborhood in Langston is changing, the author paints a loving picture of the area, anchored by the parish church and Walt’s tavern, the Mazurka Inn. There are no missteps here, and there are wonderful character studies, especially of Walt and Leon. Walt was the only one to accept Noël from the get-go. Now, his Alzheimer’s is painful for the whole family (and clearly Dzikowski knows a lot about the condition). Leon has always been locked up tight, pushing people away, and readers will want to scream at him, shake him. Willow could be his salvation. He ultimately begins a new life—a better life for a better man. Because everything has been so hard won, the final peace is all the sweeter. Readers will be eagerly awaiting the author’s next installment.
A complex and engrossing family tale with strong characters.
Dzikowski continues chronicling the Trudeau and Ziemny families (introduced in The Moonstoners) in this emotionally turbulent novel. Young Willow Trudeau, a nursing-school dropout, seeks to understand her past as she heads to a tiny town in Indiana, searching for a father she only knows by name, Leon Ziemny. Leon, meanwhile, is struggling with his own problems: his father, Walt, a retired Polish steelworker turned innkeeper, has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. When Willow marches into the Ziemny family’s inn, she immediately takes to Walt, her nursing background giving her a way to forge a connection with him while she decides whether to tell him that she’s his granddaughter. As Walt begins to fray around the edges and Willow tries to find her place in a new family, the family’s connections, already brittle, will be tested until they reach their breaking point.
Drawing on her expertise as a counsellor for dementia patients and their families, Dzikowski creates a nuanced portrait of a family in turmoil. Walt’s descent into dementia is rendered with gut-wrenching accuracy, and his portrayal will resonate with readers who have firsthand knowledge of the effects of Alzheimer’s. Willow’s quest to find her identity while struggling with her family baggage will speak to 20-something readers who have faced similar challenges.
Dzikowski’s occasional reliance on stock phrases (“losing his marbles,” “big hairy deal,”) and meandering passages sometimes blunt an otherwise sharp narrative. However, her portrayal of an Eastern European immigrant family is suffused with color. Her realistic dialogue (Walt earnestly informs Willow “I’m afraid of ships” before abruptly pivoting to frank morbidity and adding, “I sure as hell hope I don’t have to go to heaven on a ship”) prevents the story from sinking into melodrama. Dzikowski brings a steady authorial hand to this poignant and approachable family tale.
Takeaway: Readers who have been personally affected by Alzheimer’s will particularly resonate with this poignant drama about three generations of a troubled family.
Great for fans of Lisa Genova’s Still Alice, Matthew Thomas’s We Are Not Ourselves.
Production grades Cover: A Design and typography: A Illustrations: - Editing: A Marketing copy: A