A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK
In the fall of 1988, Sue Miller found herself caring for her father, James Nichols, once a truly vital man, as he succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease. Beginning an intensely personal journey, she recalls the bitter irony of watching this church historian wrestle with his increasingly befuddled notion of time and meaning. She details the struggles with doctors, her own choices, and the attempt to find a caring response to a disease whose special cruelty is to diminish the humanity of those it strikes. In luminous prose, Sue Miller has fashioned a compassionate inventory of two lives, a memoir destined to offer comfort to all sons and daughters struggling to make peace with their fathers and with themselves.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.45(d)|
About 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.
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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Excerpted from "The Story of My Father"
Copyright © 2004 Sue Miller.
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A Conversation with Sue Miller
Q: This is by far the most personal work you've written to date. Was it difficult to reveal your family to your readers?
A: I did feel some sense of responsibility about what I revealed about my family in this book. I tried to be very careful of those members of my family, mostly my siblings, who are still alive -- not to write anything which might wound one of them. I think there are things in the book which may, not because of the way they are presented, but rather that they are painful facts. I felt comfortable writing about my father because I thought he would have liked my making some use for other people out of his illness.
Q: Did you consider weaving elements of your father's life into a novel or short story instead of writing a nonfiction book about him?
A: In fact, I have woven elements of my father's life—and the lives of almost everyone I know! — into my fiction. I've even woven elements of his illness and the events that happened during his illness into my fiction. There's a section of THE DISTINGUISHED GUEST which I mention in the memoir in which I refer, fictionally, to the way he tore up all his letters to and from my mother. And in FOR LOVE I wrote a passage about my main character's taking dictation for a letter to herself from her mother, something which also happened to me and my father. There are no doubt others which aren't so closely imitative of life, and which I'm less conscious of.
Q: Your novels are beloved for their seamless and intertwined storylines. Was it difficult to find the narrative thread necessary to tell a real life story?
A: I would bepleased if what you say is true. And certainly one of the great difficulties for me in writing this book was structuring it. I threw away more than I kept, and I reordered everything I kept many times over. In the end, the book moves generally chronologically, but it stops and turns many times to look at issues raised by events going on; or history outside the chronology connected to other events. It took me literally years to figure out how I wanted to do this.
Q: Your parents were very dramatic people. Please tell us a little about them and their influence on your writing.
A: My mother was dramatic. My father was quiet and gentle, a little dry, certainly primarily intellectual. They made a dramatic contrast, though, and one I think everyone in my family was aware of. Both of them were wonderful writers, exacting and careful with language in very different ways. Both of them were passionate readers. Both believed in the power of language to move and console and redeem the listener, the reader. All of that was a gift to me as a writer.
Q: When you pieced together memories of your father, did you discover parts of him you'd forgotten or perhaps had never known?
A: A good deal of the book, particularly the last passages of the book, are taken up with this idea, that it is possible to go on learning about someone who has died, to change the way you understand them even after death. That this is one of the ways we continue to be connected to those we love.
Q: When did you first realize that your father was ill? How long did it take to diagnose his illness as Alzheimer's disease?
A: I think I had a sense fairly soon after my mother's death in 1979 that something was powerfully wrong with my father. He was sixty-five then, and Alzheimer's disease wasn't the first thing I thought of—in fact, depression was. But over time it seemed clear that some degenerative process was at work in him. He wasn't diagnosed, though, until 1986. This was mostly because it wasn't until then that he moved near enough to one of us—my sister, at that point—for her to take charge of seeking a diagnosis. Before then, he'd been in charge of his own medical care, and it seemed he didn't ask about his failures in a way that could have led to being tested.
Q: What aspect of caring for your father was most difficult?
A: There was no aspect that wasn't difficult, as everything was colored by the illness, even idle moments, even small decisions—to say nothing of large ones. But there were many moments too which were genuinely pleasurable, even towards the end.
Q: Did you ever have a moment when you thought you couldn't handle the responsibility of caring for him?
A: No. There were moments when I wished I didn't have to, moments when I didn't think I was doing a good job. But I never thought I couldn't do it.
Q: Your father was a minister. What role did his spirituality play as the disease progressed?
A: This is hard for me to know, exactly. I think early on it helped him enormously to accept that he was ill, and to accept the changes in his life we had to make because of his illness. I'm not sure what it consisted in as he grew more demented—whether you could have said he was still a Christian, for instance. Or a believer, in anything like the way he'd once been. Whether he felt the presence of God, as he'd been sure he did earlier in his life. But he could always be comforted by the language of religion, by prayer in a familiar form, by passages from the Bible read aloud. By hymns. There seemed to be something which stilled him and brought him peace in all of that.
Q: Do you worry that one day your son may have to care for you in the same way?
A: Of course.
Q: Do you also wonder how he'll remember you?
A: I don't, really. I feel that my son knows me well—I would say, that he understands me, in most ways. I don't know what changes age may bring to me, and certainly it seems entirely possible that I might eventually end up being changed profoundly, in the way my father was. What my son may make of that, if it happens, will be part of who he is and has become, as well as part of who I am and have been with him.
Q: Like your novels, there are many levels to this book. It seemed a journey for you, but also a tribute to your father. Do you think you wrote the book more for yourself, or for your father?
A: I think that moved and shifted, more than several times, as I worked through the writing of the book. In the end, I suppose, I think that every book a writer writes, she writes for herself. But I was aware of hoping, as I finished the final revision, that it was a book my father would have liked, would have seen a justification for.
Q: Are you working on a new novel?
A: I am. Though I've been slow to turn to it.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I don't read a lot of memoirs, so I'm probably a poor person to review one. I don't know if this is good or bad, as the genre goes; but it was a compelling read, which I felt I wanted to stay up and finish.It's hard to talk about "enjoying" a book like this. The prospect of oneself or a loved one developing Alzheimers is quite naturally terrifying to most people, I think. Certainly it is to me: my family history -- and therefore my likely gene-pool -- is loaded with the dread disease.Miller gives us a picture of who her father was before Alzheimer's began to chip away at his identity: a respected church history scholar, a loving (though sometimes absent) father; a man of deep faith and conviction. She ponders when the disease started -- were there traits present long before the obvious? Was his personality shaped by a predisposition to the disease? Then she gently documents the details as his personality eroded and shattered bit by bit. She shares her confusion in how to respond to the disease and the situations it creates: she also expresses frustration with the lack of empathy and understanding for his condition among many of those "professionals" charged with his care.For all the sadness involved, the book is fascinating to read. Alzheimer's progresses differently in different people, depending on the parts of the brain damaged; Miller's father developed hallucinations/delusions fairly early on, but maintained his recognition of his family and friends almost to the end -- though the ultimate course of the disease was cut short by another fatal physical illness caught too late, likely cancer.Of course, Alzheimer's takes a terrible toll on all closely involved. Miller does not shy away from talking about her feelings, and her Afterword analyzes her motivations for writing the memoir in detail.A fascinating, though very sad, book.
This is a deeply affecting account of a father's descent into the vacancy of Alzheimer's as recounted by his daughter, who in this case is the bestselling author, Sue Miller. I was initially attracted to the book because of her name, since I have read with great pleasure at least four of her books of fiction. Miller recounts, in the Afterword, how difficult it was for her to write this book about her late father, and how many times she put it aside to pursue something else. But she continued to be drawn back to it over the years, seeing it perhaps as a kind of unfinished business that needed to be dealt with. Her mental health depended on it, and she also wanted to share her experiences with the last few years and death of her father in hopes that it might help others who have had to witness a beloved parent or relative succumb to Alzheimer's. Miller also did her homework over the years to learn as much as she could about Alzheimer's and the latest research and findings on this terrible disease. The information she shares in this regard is exceptionally well chosen and relevant. But it seemed to me the best parts of the book were when she recounted memories of her father's life and her own. Her father, who was an historian, teacher and a scholar at the University of Chicago and then Princeton Theological Seminary was always a distant and somewhat detached man, making close relationships problematic. His more flamboyant and gregarious wife (who predeceased him from a sudden heart attack) had always been in charge and overshadowed him in many ways in their family, making a close relationship between Miller and her father difficult, until after her mother was gone. And by then Nichols was already beginning to show early signs of the disease that would finally kill him. Miller obviously treasures the time she spent with her father, even the difficult and heartbreaking times near the end of his life. She wrote this book so that she would not forget those times - good and bad. In this respect her tribute to her father is reminiscent of another Alzheimer's memoir I read not long ago: In a Tangled Wood, by Joyce Dyer, which recounted her mother's struggle with the debilitating and deadly disease. Dyer noted near the end of her book how her friends urged her to take a trip, to get away after her mother had finally passed away and try to forget. But Dyer didn't. Instead she wrote the book and emphasized that she didn't ever want to forget a single thing that happened. It was her way of paying tribute to a mother who had, finally and tragically, forgotten everything.I think perhaps Sue Miller was trying to do the same thing with The Story of My Father. In any case, she has certainly honored a father who continues to loom large in her inner landscape. If I have any complaints at all about this book it is that there is not enough about Miller herself. Perhaps that will come in another memoir at a later time. I hope so. In the meantime, I will highly recommend this book to anyone who has struggled with the specter of Alzheimer's in their family, as well as to fathers or daughters who continue to grapple with with that particularly puzzling relationship between a father and a daughter. This is a book worth reading.
I 'read' this book from an audio book read by the author. The book is a memoir of her father's life as a scholar of Christianity but, above all, a story told of his old age years. A sad description of the destruction that Alzheimer brings to a fine person.Sue Miller is very good at entering into the mechanichs of a relationship-altering illness. She is as lost as any care-giver of this horrible illness. Do you play along with the demented stories and hallucinations? do you value keeping reality and truth above all? Is is better to concede to the fictional - and at timed contented - life of a demented person or do you force reality on them?A book recommended to all those who have to cope with caring for a person stricken by Alzheimer disease.
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.
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.
I am also the child of an ALZ afflcted parent. Finding out one is not alone is the greatest hope. Inspirational!!
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!
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.
I would like to get this book in Spanish, has it been published in Spanish.