Published by All That Matters Press ISBN 9780990715818
Trade paperback, $16.69, 308 pages
A family dealing with the devastating diagnosis of ALS is the subject of Marylee MacDonald's intense novel Montpelier Tomorrow. Colleen Gallagher is a suburban Chicago kindergarten teacher and mother of three adult children. She raised her young children on her own when her husband died in a car accident years ago, and spent the last few years caring for her Alzheimer's-afflicted mother who recently died.
When her daughter's husband is diagnosed with a fast-moving form of ALS, Lou Gerhig's disease, Colleen rushes to her daughter's family in Washington DC to help care for Sandy, (who just gave birth to baby boy Ben) three-year-old Josh and son-in-law Tony.
Sandy and Colleen's relationship is not the perfect mother-daughter one. I found Sandy's need for order and control and the rude way she expresses that need to her mother unsettling. Sandy constantly berates her mother and even throws Tony's parents out of her home for a minor offense.
Tony deteriorates quickly and Colleen comes to stay with the family and help during her summer vacation. Sandy has to work as a lawyer to support her family now that Tony is housebound, so Colleen not only cares for the children, but she reluctantly becomes Tony's caregiver as well.
The characters in Montpelier Tomorrow are different from other books of this type in that they are not the let's-everyone-pitch-in-and-make-it-better people. Sandy is resentful of her husband's illness, Tony is self-centered and self-pitying, and Colleen just wants to return to her own life back in Chicago. Tony's parents' idea of helping is to let Colleen do the actual, difficult physical care of their son while they pop in from time to time.
MacDonald provides a realistic look at the tough day-to-day living as a caregiver to an adult with ALS. She pulls no punches at the frustrations, the anger and the punishing physical toll it takes on Colleen, who steps up when no one else will.
Colleen and Sandy's relationship is a tough one to read about, but eventually we discover what is behind Sandy's resentment. It reinforces that parents don't always know what their children are thinking as they grow up, and the same is true of children about their parents. We tend to ascribe motivations to each other because we don't really understand each other.
There is a sad twist at the end of the story that comes on suddenly and changes everything. I admit to not seeing this one coming and it felt like a punch to the gut. Montpelier Tomorrow is a tough read, and MacDonald does a terrific job putting you in the shoes of this family in crisis. You make not like all of them but you will feel their pain. Colleen is a wonderfully complex, unforgettable character, and I for one would love to see more of her story.
Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Marylee MacDonald's tour. The rest of the tour stops are here:
Marylee’s Tour Stops
Monday, August 24th: bookchickdi
Wednesday, August 26th: Peeking Between the Pages
Monday, August 31st: BoundbyWords
Monday, August 31st: A Bookish Way of Life
Friday, September 4th: Queen of All She Reads
Friday, September 4th: Back Porchervations
Tuesday, September 8th: Kritters Ramblings
Wednesday, September 9th: Raven Haired Girl
Thursday, September 10th: Time 2 Read
Tuesday, September 15th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews
Wednesday, September 16th: Thoughts On This ‘n That
Thursday, September 17th: Seaside Book Nook
Monday, September 21st: The Reading Cove Book Club
Tuesday, September 22nd: Good Girl Gone Redneck
Wednesday, September 23rd: Diary of an Alzheimer’s Caregiver
Thursday, September 24th: Ace and Hoser Blook