Friday, July 4, 2014

'Every Waking Moment' by Chris Fabry

Every Waking Moment
Treha Langsam is a mysterious young woman who has fallen through the cracks, much like many of the elderly people she works with at Desert Gardens Retirement Home. But Miriam Howard, director of the facility, sees her extraordinary gift and untapped potential. Treha is a whisperer of sorts, calling those who have slipped into dementia back to a life of vibrant, if only temporary, clarity.When Treha's and Miriam's stories intertwine with a documentary team looking for stories of the elderly, Treha's gift is uncovered, and the search begins for answers to the mysteries of her past. As their paths converge, each person is forced to face the same difficult question: "What if this is as good as my life gets?"An uplifting, human tale of an ordinary woman with an extraordinary gift.
My husband has been performing saxophone concerts at places similar to this book's main setting, so I was hooked from the start. We call them nursing homes or aged care facilities. Desert Gardens Hospice, in this book, was called an 'end-of-life facility' which seems a bit blunt. The drama unfolds within its walls.

The main character is Treha Langsam, a young female employee who seems to have a way with the patients and inmates. At first, she comes across as something of a horse whisperer, but her subjects are elderly humans who are locked into Alzheimers or dementia. My early impression was that Treha was devoid of a sense of humour, and it becomes clear that she is unable to express any emotion at all. But she has a photographic memory, a fertile mind a bit like a Thesaurus, and loves reading novels. She has no past that she can remember, yet it's evident that she must have some sort of empathy, or she wouldn't get along so well with the elderly inmates. During the story, she's called a 'memory stealer' and you'll have to read the book to find out why.

There are a couple of 'villains' in this story, and one of the easiest to hiss and boo is Jillian Millstone, who is set to replace the kindly Miriam Howard as director of the centre. It's an apt surname for this cold and clinical woman who believes she will usher in improvements and regards people as 'types' rather than seeing them as individuals. It's sad to see a good person retire to make way for an unsuitable replacement who is capable of snuffing the good feelings out of a place in a flash, without even realising that she's doing it. Once again, you'll have to read the book to find out what happens.

My favourite characters were Devin and Jonah, the two young men who wanted to start a business making artistic and revealing films about the reminiscences of elderly people. What Treha lacks in humour, they make up for over and over. I started chuckling when we first met Devin trying to convince his bank manager to give them a loan, and not succeeding in his attempt to 'explain art to a number cruncher'. The boys have no easy road, and you have to read it to find out what happens.

There is plenty of mystery to unravel, as Miriam, Devin and Jonah begin to get to bottom of Treha's earliest history, dredging up some sinister crime from people you would least expect. And we get plenty of alternative ways of viewing the inmates of Desert Gardens. Some view them as 'old fogeys' eking out their last days in some forgotten corner, while others, like Miriam, Devin and Treha, see them as 'treasures in wrinkled bodies.' One of the most interesting things about this book is its success in making readers care so deeply for Treha, in spite of the fact that she seems to function like a robot girl for a lot of it.

I think one of my favourite quotes comes from Chaplain Calhoun. He's a minor character, but sums up the wisdom encapsulated in some of the elderly characters. 'Being content is not a lack of ambition. It's being able to rest and relax and know your worth doesn't come from what others think of you, or even what you think of you.'

4 stars

Every Waking Moment available from Amazon

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