Score: 86/100 (8.6 out of 10)
Don't let the somewhat unnerving art and lack of formatting fool you, The Journey Home by Gabriel Bron is surprisingly a very heartfelt and powerful narrative about a family dealing with their aging parents and their declining health. Specifically, this book focuses on the cognitive declines of elderly parents including those suffering from Alzheimer's.
Something that really elevates and brings some extra light to this emotional, heavy narrative is the narrator's snark and sarcasm. Gabriel Bron as a narrator is almost as snarky and sarcastic as Joel Shoemaker from Bacon Grief. If you don't remember, that was one of the funnest/funniest books we read last season and Joel Shoemaker was one of the most entertaining writers. We love the narrator in The Journey Home. He is so funny and really takes these sad and tragic situations in stride.
There are moments of gold in this regard such as when Gabriel reflects on a time he had to go through a process to adopt two lizards before comparing that experience to admitting his parents to a care facility. There are lines like describing when one parent's heart had passed its “expiration date.” Though these lines are funny, they aren't necessarily disrespectful or belittling. If anything, they seem to be part of a form of coping—dealing with a terrible situation by finding some humor and irony in it.
Gabriel insists, perhaps sarcastically, that this story isn't about him and that he's not its main character. He insists that his sister, Kate, is the true heroine of the story with his mother and father as protagonists. Alzheimer's disease is identified as the villain, and it continues to terrorize the good guys throughout the course of the book.
Despite this insistence that he's not the hero of the story, he really seems to be. It's like a playful false humility that persists throughout the book. Gabriel just seems like a really fun and funny person. He's apparently some sort of snake wrangler or snake tamer and a linguist with knowledge of even archaic or obscure languages like Sanskrit. We see incidences of him being able to speak and understand some French and German. Ironically, his family has German roots, but German seems to be the one language he struggles with the most. It is possible that fact is played up for kicks and giggles, but the narrator often acts baffled by his working understanding of his father's German, especially when it comes to his idioms.
So, right off the bat, you find yourself rooting for Gabriel and his parents. Why wouldn't you? These people are shown in such a loving, sympathetic light even when they're grouchy or even aggressive, you still love and understand them the way the narrator does. You can feel the family bond and connection even when members forget things (like where “home” is) and even each other.
Gabriel and Kate realize that their fate may be similar to that of their parents as they are genetically inclined with a propensity for a neuro-degenerative problem.
There is a tragedy to what is happening, and it feels so real and raw. The fear of loss and uncertainty about the future are things that almost all of us can relate to. Those who've cared for sick or elderly parents/loved ones know the struggle.
There's also a layer of mystery to the book as we slowly reveal more and more about the parents that even their children weren't aware of for most of their lives. For example, the father seems to have a secret that he has kept locked away and is ashamed of. This is explored when we learn that a local restaurant actually used to be owned by the narrator's grandfather, and it was supposed to have been passed down. Why wasn't it? And why does the father act so defensively when asked about it? It's a mystery!
This kind of mystery, drama, and tension is present throughout.
The more we learn about the narrator's parents, the more interesting they become. For example, the narrator's father served in World War II and was a POW under Japanese occupation in the Philippines, a truly unenviable situation. The trauma he carries with him is difficult to put into words and yet easily understandable. The things he has seen and experienced are almost unspeakable.
You also get great quotes like: “Victory washes away the pain” and some truly beautiful moments like when the father kisses his Alzheimer's-ridden wife before bed only for her to respond, “I don't know who you are, but I really like you.”
So, what is it that keeps this beautiful, powerful, emotional, and funny book from passing the 90 point threshold? Well, for one, the formatting does not seem refined or finished. The absence of indentations at the beginning of paragraphs is the main indication of that. Another thing is the art. Does the art add to this book or does it distract and detract from it? We kinda feel like it distracts and detracts from it. The prose tells a very good narrative on its own. If anything, the art—which isn't our cup of tea—distracts the reader from the prose, which we've established as the best thing about this book.
But let's give the author/artist some credit. It really might just be a matter of taste. The art, despite featuring easily-recognizable human figures, borders on abstract with a flare of the bizarre. It may be most closely compared to the acrylic art by Kristan Ryan, art which said a lot with so little. Noticeable in most of these works of art is the issue of proportions, especially when it comes to the size of the neck in the proportion to the rest of the body. At the same time, there are works of art in here that actually are beautiful and have a degree of artistic merit. Case in point: the art on p. 206, p. 202, p. 196, and p. 190 are beautiful and heart-wrenching. Perhaps when the tone of the art became more serious and less cynical, the art itself became more appealing.
At the same time, there's the very real consideration that the tone of the book itself is quite cynical, so more cynical art may have been warranted.
All in all, the narrative carries this book, and it's a narrative worth hearing.
Check it out on Amazon!