Friday, March 21, 2014
As I read Samantha Harvey's novel The Wilderness, a novel about a man named Jake who has Alzheimer's, I find myself wondering if this degenerative "disease" is really so bad after all. Obviously it's upsetting for families to go through having a loved one sort of lose their mind. Two of my grandparents had the disease and it's hard to watch, especially when you see the confused look on their face and hear them call you someone else's name. But, it's harder for the person diagnosed as they lose their bearings and have to construct a new reality.
Jake has a very hard time coping with his diagnosis, getting frustrated at his doctor for making him do memory exercises and not completely understanding why he's making so many mistakes. They are his memories. Being an architect, he is rather logical so the fact that he is unable to logically piece things together is really messing with him: "But if he can no longer calculate or piece together through numbers then the invisible sense, the sense behind the apparently chaotic stray of branches and leaves, is gone. Order will be a dream he once had that has melted like glass, slowly and quite imperceptibly" (Harvey 122). Jake is aware that chaos is ensuing because he cannot logically piece together his memories or his reality because Alzheimer's is distorting everything. This is something I am sure everyone diagnosed with Alzheimer's experiences and I bet it's really scary. Not knowing how you got somewhere, who someone is, or if your memories can be trusted must be terrifying.
However, I think maybe there's another side to Alzheimer's that our society is vehemently rejecting. Rather than trying to fight the "disease", why don't we embrace it? What if we took the pressure off of those who are diagnosed with Alzheimer's to remember things and just allowed them to walk around in their delusion? Who are we to say that their altered reality isn't as good or better than this one? For the elderly who are doomed to living in nursing homes, living in their memories is probably a lot more pleasant to experience. Jake and Eleanor (his second wife) capture this well in a brief, respective, dialogue: "'I think what I like.' 'But it isn't true'" (Harvey 246). What does it matter if Jake's memories or reality aren't what society considers "true"? He's happy reliving his past, even the bad parts, because they distract him from the fact that "reality" is so confusing and disorienting for him now. Using Bruner's ideas of reality from his article The Narrative Construction of Reality, if Jake can no longer trust his senses to logically tell him what's going on around him, then he must rely on the narrative of his memories to construct his reality. And what's so wrong with