Book Review: In Love by Amy Bloom
When Amy Bloom’s husband Brian Ameche, who knew her taste for simplicity, bought her a very expensive sweatshirt with a chic tulle trim, “she might have guessed something was wrong,” Salley Vickers told The Guardian. At the time, the writer dismissed the gift as a harmless curiosity. Looking back, she was “surprised I didn’t look at that sweatshirt and think, ‘I see you have Alzheimer’s.'”
In this “keenly observed, often witty, deeply moving memoir,” Bloom chronicles “the gradual progression of the disease from its slow realization that her husband was not himself to a definitive diagnosis” when he was in his mid-60s. But what happened next is the real subject of the book. Within a week of being diagnosed, Ameche had decided that the “long goodbye” to Alzheimer’s wasn’t for him. He decided to end his life with most of his abilities still intact, and Bloom had to help him with that.
The illness had already debilitated her husband to the point where he was unable to “orchestrate his exit,” Hephzibah Anderson told The Observer. And so it fell to Bloom to make the arrangements. A period of “eerie internet trawling” followed, during which the pair considered various creative solutions involving illegal drugs, guns and even “a futuristic suicide pod.” Ultimately, the Swiss organization Dignitas emerged as the only “completely legal, painless option” – although the bureaucratic hurdles were still considerable.
In January 2020, the couple flew business class from their home in Connecticut to Zurich and checked into a room that Bloom described as “hotel-friendly.” After being repeatedly asked by doctors about performing the procedure, Ameche took a lethal dose of sodium pentobarbital. Before that, he asked his wife, “What time does your plane leave?”
During half of In love is the story of assisted suicide, the other tells the story of their relationship, Sarah Ditum said in The Times. Hers was a blissfully happy midlife love match. Before Alzheimer’s, Ameche was “smart, handsome, well-groomed” and self-deprecating. “You should be with a guy who doesn’t mind that you’re smarter than him,” he told Bloom when they got together. All of this lends great power to her portrayal of his demise, which is unsentimental and immaculately written and “can make you laugh and break your heart in the same beat”. For once, here is an account of tragedy that doesn’t evoke guilt: “I wish this terrible thing had happened to a better writer.”
Granta 240 pages £16.99; The Bookstore of the Week £13.99
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https://www.theweek.co.uk/arts-life/culture/books/956657/book-of-the-week-in-love-by-amy-bloom Book Review: In Love by Amy Bloom