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.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A
In this emotionally charged novel, the second in Barbara J. Dzikowski's Moon trilogy, the strength of generational bonds and the power of love evolve amidst life's complexities and long-hidden family secrets.
In 1973, in Willow, Ohio, Noel Trudeau risked her life to give birth to her daughter, Willow. Now Willow is in her 20s, and with information from her mother's diary, she decides to track down her biological father, Leon Ziemny, who is unaware of Willow's existence.
The story artfully unfolds as Willow soon finds herself in Leon's predominantly Polish steel mill town in Langston, Indiana, working at the longstanding Mazurka Inn bar owned by Leon's dad, Walt, recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. While she chooses not to reveal her true identity, a familial bond easily grows between Willow and Walt, and surrounding family members begin to appreciate Willow's former nursing training and her special ability to use "therapeutic fibbing" to handle Walt.
Married 60 years, Walt's wife Mary's poignant commentary of "It's a sad thing alright losing your husband when he's still alive," speaks to the ravaging consequences of his illness. Adding to the complex and frustrating circumstances, as Leon finds it increasingly difficult to accept his father's worsening condition, his growing distance from his own stoic wife opens her to a neighbor's flirtations.
Dzikowski does a heroic job handling Walt's ever-worsening dementia. Whether portraying the humor of Walt's downing an entire communion chalice, the violence of "sundown" episodes, or halfPolish/half-Cherokee friend Gus's ancestral ponderings on the disease ("The brain gets dimmer, but the spirit gets brighter"), such intimate moments are realistically rendered. Gus's long-running fascination with the Kennedy assassination adds another dimension to the work, alongside current events that dot the story's timeline, including the Clinton/Lewinsky debacle, JFK Jr.'s downed plane, and 9/11.
While part of a trilogy, the story easily stands alone. 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.