Skip to content

An Uncertain Inheritance review

December 4, 2008

From the publisher: 24482489

In this eloquent collection of essays—from the editor of the national bestseller Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression—contributors reveal their experiences in caring for family through illness and death

Today, thirty million people look after frail family members in their own homes. This number will increase drastically over the next decade—as baby boomers tiptoe toward old age; as soldiers return home from war wounded, mentally and physically; as a growing number of Americans find themselves caught between the needs of elderly parents and young children; as medical advances extend lives and health insurance fails to cover them. This compelling book offers both literary solace and guidance to the people who find themselves witness to—and participants in—the fading lives of their intimates.

Some of the country’s most accomplished writers offer frank insights and revelations about this complex relationship. Julia Glass describes the tension between giving care—to her two young sons—and needing care after being diagnosed with breast cancer; Ann Harleman explores her decision to place her husband in an institution; Sam Lipsyte alternates between dark humor and profound understanding in telling the story of his mother’s battle with cancer; Ann Hood wishes she’d had more time as a caregiver, to prepare herself for the loss of her daughter; Andrew Solomon examines the humbling experience of returning as an adult to be cared for by his father; cartoonist Stan Mack offers an illustrated piece about the humor and hell of making his way through the medical bureaucracy alongside his partner, Janet; Julia Alvarez writes about the competition between her and her three sisters to be the best daughter as they tend to their ailing parents. An Uncertain Inheritance examines the caregiving relationship from every angle—children caring for parents; parents caring for children; sib-lings, spouses, and close friends, all looking after one another—to reveal the pain, intimacy, and grace that take place in this meaningful connection.

Review and Grade: D

Publisher’s Weekly said it best,

“The tales of cancer, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s start to blur together, no matter how artfully told. Sam Lipsyte’s irreverent portrayal of caring for his mother as she died of breast cancer shortly after he kicked drug addiction provides welcome relief. He describes injecting his mother’s medication: “I tended to make a grand, nearly cinematic deal of flicking the bubbles away, as though to say, ‘Now Mom, aren’t you glad I was a junkie?’ …Overall, the essays are well worth reading-just not all at once.”

I read this book for a class, so I tried to cram it all on on my way back from Thanksgiving break. Don’t. Each essay stands up on its own, but as a series, it’s painful. As a reader, instead of feeling more, you simply shut down. Maybe if I was going through a similar experience, I would have found the essays more moving, more helpful or effective in some way. I just got bored and depressed. Seriously depressed. The most interesting and exciting part of the book was the information about the authors included in the book. I would like to ask Nell Casey, editor of the book, why she chose these essays and these authors? What was the point of the book supposed to be? Is it supposed to uplift? (it doesn’t). It is supposed to scare? (It doesn’t) Is it supposed to motivate people to reevaluate their lives or their families? (It doesn’t)


I would recommend certain essays to people in similar situations but I would not recommend the entire book to anyone, at least in one sitting (or two).

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: