All Gone is a memoir of Alex Witchel’s mother’s dementia, something that is unfortunately close at heart for many of us. My great grandmother is unfortunately winding down a bit, and at 90, experiencing some bouts of dementia. Her current condition is part of the reason I picked up this book to start with; call me old fashioned, but I still read memoirs to learn from other people’s’ experiences. I went through an intense bout of memoir obsession right at the tail-end of high school, and the other reason I picked this book up is one of my first loves in the memoir world. Take a look at Molly Wizenberg’s blog Orangette, and consider picking up her first book, A Homemade Life. It’s spectacular, typing amazing recipes into short stories about her family. Wizenberg weaves a beautiful work of creative nonfiction.
I buy books anywhere I can find them, book stores, antique malls, thrift shops, even Dollar Tree. My copy of All Gone came from the disorganized heap of books at my local Dollar Tree, as did several others on my shelf. My copy of Wizenberg’s book came from the clearance section at Books-A-Million, so I suppose you could say I have a habit of finding gems in the thriftiest of places. Memoirs are easy to find cheap, especially those written by non celebrities, though I can’t quite understand why.
Witchel jumps right into both the dementia and the recipes, providing one or more at the end of each chapter. After meeting her pre-dementia mother in the introductory chapter, we see her begin to fade as time goes by. Though every chapter isn’t centered around the dementia, and a great deal of the book deals with Witchel’s life and setting up the relationship and her career, we see the stages of dementia progress. It is an ugly thing, stealing the memories and reliability that Witchel so desperately clung to when she and her mother were close.
I clearly couldn’t keep myself out of the hammock.
This might become a common theme.
One of my favorite things about this book was the simplicity of Witchel’s family recipes. She describes her mother as a working woman without much time for cooking, though she clearly loved her mother’s recipes. Occasionally I find myself picking up a cookbook full of three-hour prep recipes, but Witchel’s are as quick as they are convenient. Some recipes are for small things, easy to prepare and based off of ingredients like frankfurters (hot dogs), others are as intimate as the turkey she roasts for thanksgiving.
Reading Witchel’s book, I found myself thinking about my initial rejection of domesticity as a young feminist. I went through a radical phase that to me meant marriage, domesticity, etc. were all signs of bad feminists. Now, after growing out of my earliest phase, I can bask in the joy of reading domestic memoirs like these. Cooking for your family, using your mother’s recipes, aren’t signs of bad feminism, they’re just ways of appreciating your upbringing. It’s a cultural thing, and despite not feeling exceptionally cultured, I have begun to appreciate the edible part of Southern culture more and more as time passed. I thoroughly enjoyed Witchel’s insight on women bonding over the art of cooking as well.
Witchel’s mother was in some ways domestic, but she was also a working mother and a busy, driven woman bent on personal-growth. She was a good role model for her daughter, and we as readers get the opportunity to glimpse into the 1960-80’s when her lifestyle was just beginning to become the norm. Witchel’s reflections on her family’s heritage and the role of working women during the various time periods was refreshing.
There is some discussion of disability, dealing mostly with her mother’s polio, and we see glimpses of misogyny, as well as a brief mention of support for planned parenthood and birth control advice from Witchel’s mother. Overall, this book had several themes dealing with women’s rights, all occurring during a time in which they were pivotal.
I give this book an 8/10.
I’d also love to take a moment to promote my dear friend Shannan’s blog. She’s also taking the 52 books in 52 weeks challenge, per my challenge, and blogging the whole way through. Shannan and I graduated from the same school, same program, and had several classes together after studying abroad together in 2014. She reads a great deal of YA fiction and adventure, though she’ll be reading random books just like I have.