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  • Miriam Green

A Novel Idea


The tagline for the book Elizabeth is Missing* is: “How do you solve a mystery when you can’t remember the clues?” This first novel by Emma Healey is narrated by a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s.

At first, I wondered if the book would be repetitive, given the nature of Alzheimer’s. It made me uncomfortable, peering into the lives of a family similar to mine. The shame the daughter feels at explaining her mom’s actions; the sadness as the narrator, Maud, flits from memory to memory, emotion to emotion. It resonated very strongly with me. Even Maud’s losing her shopping list and buying cans and cans of the same product struck a chord.

Healey keeps the reader’s interest by interweaving two stories: Maud’s struggle to find her friend Elizabeth who seems to have disappeared from her home; and the disappearance of Maud’s sister 70 years earlier at the end of WWII. As Maud struggles to remember that Elizabeth is missing, her jagged present is laid bare. As she wanders lost around the neighbourhood in which she grew up, objects, smells, even words trigger extensive, lucid memories that are told seamlessly without any Alzheimer’s contagion.

Here’s where I did feel differently. In the beginning, Maud’s daughter Helen is almost hostile to her mom, to the burden Maud’s Alzheimer’s places on her. She understands the disease but blames Maud for her actions. Even as she inches closer to the idea that her mother can’t be left alone in her own home, Helen fights being tied so intimately to Maud and to Maud’s eccentricities.

I went through a phase like that, too. But reading the novel made me realize how far I’ve come in my attitude towards my own mom. I actively seek the blessings when we are together, despite the difficulties. And I am more sanguine over Mom’s sometimes bizarre behavior. Yet I was able to identify with the daughter as when she was in the uncomfortable position of talking about her mother in her mother’s presence hoping her mom didn’t hear or react.

Ultimately, though, this is a suspense novel. As Maud discovers more clues to Elizabeth’s—and her sister’s—disappearance, the narrative becomes more compelling. I couldn’t put the book down. We are forced to decipher facts through Maud’s confused perspective. It reminded me of how memory fuels our present and how the past is always with us, even when it is locked inside the mind of someone suffering from Alzheimer’s.

The holiday of Purim starts this Saturday night. While this is probably the most fun holiday in our calendar year, for me, it is also one of the most stressful. That’s because we have to put together mishlochai manot, Purim baskets filled with homemade goodies like hamentashen (or oznei haman as they are called in Hebrew). This year, being on a peanut butter kick (you can never eat too much peanut butter!), I made peanut butter and jelly hamentashen. Yum!

Peanut Butter Hamentashen with Jelly

The trick to measuring peanut butter is to coat your measuring cup with a thin layer of oil. The peanut butter slides right out.

¾ cup oil

1 cup sugar

½ cup brown sugar

2 eggs

1 cup peanut butter

1 tsp vanilla

3 cups flour

½ tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

Jelly for filling

Directions:

Mix oil and sugars. Add eggs, then peanut butter and vanilla. Stir in dry ingredients to create a firm dough. Roll dough to 1” thick, and using a round glass cut out as many circles as you can. Remove excess dough. Place a teaspoon of jelly in center of each circle and gently pinch into a triangle shape. Roll out excess dough and repeat. Alternatively, take a small piece of dough, pat into circle by hand, then add jelly, etc. Place hamentash on baking sheet covered in baking paper. Repeat until all dough is used. Bake at 350° for 15 to 20 minutes. Please note: don't let dough get cold and don't prepare in advance. It won't roll out well.

*Elizabeth is Missing, Emma Healy, HarperCollins Publisher, NY, 2014

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