After reading this book, my mind is flooded with questions. Where have we gone as a society? How are we caring for our parents? What is it like in the mind of someone suffering dementia? And on and on. Much of that is answerable in our own conscience, which makes me believe the author has achieved her goal. And now I feel like phoning my dad. Like now.
This book seems to have two halves. I liken this to a chess match. The author takes the time to set up the board, carefully putting each piece in its respective place. Her writing is descriptive and wonderful. You feel the warmth of the Fiji Island. You sense the upbringing the protagonist, Ruth, had with her missionary parents. And then enter the other characters with little hints dropped along the way. Once you reach Act 2, the game begins. Pieces move, but you can’t fathom the game ending move until last few plays. And like in chess, though you know the winner and loser via the call of check-mate, the actual act of knocking over the king may be anticlimactic. As such is the epilogue–quick and without the heft the rest of the book had.
The characters are relatable, even more so if you have witnessed anyone suffering from dementia. When Ruth places a call to her son, telling him about the tiger in her home, I am brought back to those calls in the middle of the night that my own parents received. And yet, I’m also reminded of how terribly far I am from my own family. Ruth, whose spark of life seems as strong as ever, whose husband has passed away, whose sons have moved far away, wants to continue living life to the fullest. This includes her driving, and even rekindling an old romance. But things just aren’t that easy anymore, are they?
If this sounds like a tragic tale, it is. We lay witness to Ruth as her mind deteriorates. Along with the supposed tiger, a caretaker named Frida makes her appearance. Without giving away spoilers, and what is clear to the reader, there is something about Frida that makes you wonder. She shows up to care for Ruth, gives her these pills that make her a bit fuzzy, and, well, I think I’ve said enough. I’ll say this though, by the time you get three-quarters through, it’ll be hard to stop.
While this book may be slow to start, and while it does come with thought-provoking depression, I still highly recommend it. Others have called this a psychological thriller, and it is. The slow burn and set up are rewarded at the halfway point, when everything ramps up with expertly crafted words that sail cleverly to the end. My idea of a great book is one that makes me contemplate life and become a better person because of it. Night Guest has done just that. This book crushes me, but that’s a good thing.