Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong is one of my favorite books of 2017. It’s a novel that is made all the more impressive by considering that it is the author’s debut. It is a witty, poignant examination of what happens when things are falling apart and how to find your footing as you’re working your way through it.
Ruth, smarting from her split with her fiancé, moves back home to help her mother care for her father, a prominent history professor who has been recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Once home, Ruth realizes that the situation is more complex than she initially thought. The dynamic of her parents’ relationship had shifted significantly prior to her father’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and her mother had kept these matters private. She is still attempting to keep them private, when Ruth discovers signed divorce papers stashed away in a desk drawer. Her mother refuses to discuss the with Ruth. It isn’t until her father’s former assistant, Theo, helps Ruth to set up a mock class for her father to teach, that she learns the truth of what happened. A truth that is both shocking and disappointing.
I’ve never liked New Year’s. The trouble with beginnings is that there’s no such thing. What’s a beginning but an arbitrary point of entry? You begin when you’re born, I guess, but it’s not like you know anything about that.
Relationship drama abounds in this novel, as Ruth is experiencing her share of heartbreak. Ruth is privately sorting through the events that led to her break up with her fiancé, who left her for another woman. Her now ex-fiancé has also wasted no time marrying this woman and starting a family with her. Also complicated is the relationship between Ruth’s younger brother Linus, and their Dad. Linus can remember when his Dad developed a drinking problem- something that largely happened while Ruth was away at college, and therefore missed. Like in real life, the relationships in this novel are complex and sometimes stifling.
On Family Feud, one of the categories is “Advantages of artificial trees over real trees.” One of the popular reasons is “no smell.” More and more, I get this feeling I don’t know a thing.
This novel addresses the grieving process in a comedic, although not insensitive manner. Ruth’s voice is funny. She’s a character that many readers will identify with. She’s a lot like most of us, in that things didn’t turn out for her the way that she planned and that life has been a little disappointing. Yet, she approaches it all with humor. We learn about her daily experiences and witty observations through various entries in her journal. Later in the novel these entries turn into letters to her Dad, mimicking the observations he had recorded about watching her grow as a child.
The mind tells you what or whom to love, and then you do it, but sometimes it doesn’t: sometimes the mind plays tricks, and sometimes the mind is the worst.
I cannot sing the praises of this novel highly enough. I loved it from start to finish. It is emotional, heart breaking, clever, and funny. I absolutely could not put it down. Thank you, Rachel Khong for crafting such a beautiful novel, I know I am looking forward to devouring your next work.
If you enjoyed Goodbye, Vitamin you may also enjoy All Grown Up, by Jami Attenberg, or We are all Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler.