3 out of 4 stars
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Gilbert “Gil” McGillicuddy is an eighty-nine-year-old war veteran battling dementia along with the general maladies of advanced age. Robert, his conspiracy-theory blogger son, lives close and cares for his father to the best of his ability. Ruby, Robert’s down-on-her-luck pregnant daughter, comes to live with him, bringing along his twelve-year-old granddaughter, Sapphire. Thus the scene is set for We Won’t Forget You, Mr. McGillicuddy by Ira L. White.
Gil is a feisty old man. He flirts with the waitress in the diner. Flirts with the grocery store checker. Flirts with the old ladies in his apartment building. His philosophy to attract women is to “make ‘em laugh, make ‘em smile.” His biggest fear is that he won’t be remembered, but he himself remembers less and less every day. He dreams of his dead wife, and of the horrors of battle from his service days. He thinks a man carrying a toy bulldog visits him in the night. Robert writes his blog posts and tries to manage the needy family that pulls him from both sides.
The book is filled with the minutia of life. Things like Gil getting out of bed, eating breakfast, and going to the grocery store are recounted in vivid detail. The descriptions of the surrounding landscape and the change of seasons are long and lyrical. There’s a matter-of-fact tone to the narrative that belies the seriousness of this family’s problems. In addition to Gil’s decline, Robert has health problems of his own. There’s not enough money to go around for broken furnaces and stalled vehicles and still support the household now expanded with three new members, Ruby, Sapphire, and Ruby’s new baby. Throw in a vindictive nemesis from Robert’s college days, and tension stirs below the surface of the most mundane interactions.
White does a magnificent job of showing us Gil’s state of mind. Anyone with aging parents or grandparents will recognize the types of conversations the old man has with those around him and with himself. Before going to breakfast, Gil forgets to put in his dentures. He gets dressed but puts his shoes on before his pants and has to start over. He stows the milk in the cupboard and the cereal in the refrigerator. All of this could be construed as comical, but it’s not meant to be. What happens to Gil is what really does happen to people with dementia. It’s heartbreaking.
In addition to characterizing Gil so perfectly, White does an equally good job with the rest of the characters. Ruby and Sapphire ring true in their attitudes and are easily understood. Robert is more complex. In all of his interactions with his family, he’s gentle, kind and caring, logical and practical, and dispenses invaluable advice to all. What we see of his life is in stark contrast to what he writes in his blog. His posts are filled with rants and accusations about the unfairness of life in general.
There are several of these complete blog entries included in the story. One of them runs seven pages. That much justice-warrior rhetoric is not going to appeal to the fiction fan. The blog sections are tough reads and bring the flow of the story to a screeching halt. They are intended to show Robert’s passions, but a smattering of quotes would give us the idea just as effectively. Sprinkled among the later chapters, there are also several omniscient POV chapters that begin with the concept “somewhere in America there is”—a couple about to lose their home to foreclosure due to crushing medical bills; a pregnant young woman working on her feet for long hours without a break to even go to the bathroom; two homeless veterans drinking themselves into a stupor because, even though they put their lives on the line for the country, they’ve now become invisible to the general public. All the scenarios are troubling. All are problems in society that should be addressed. They relate only marginally to what’s going on with the McGillicuddy family. These random scenes would be more meaningful if they were the direct springboards for Robert’s blogs.
I can’t quite count this book as perfect, so I must rate it three out of four stars. The overarching political statement that White seeks to slip into the narrative is idealistic and actually detracts from an otherwise touching family drama. There are a few editing errors, almost all comma usage. The casual reader won’t notice or care about most of these instances, and their enjoyment of this story will not be diminished. I can recommend this book to all readers. There are no motorcycle chases, time travel or talking dogs, but anyone can relate to these real people dealing with real problems. On the surface, the story may seem simple, but there’s much more here than meets the eye.
We Won't Forget You Mr. McGillicuddy
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