Published 2015 by Atria Books
Translated by Alice Menzies
Genre: Literary Fiction/Novella
My Rating: 5/5 Stars
This was my very first dip into Backman’s prose, after hearing about him a lot for a couple of years now, and I cried before I even made it past the first page… of the author’s note. In a letter to his readers, Backman explains that he never meant to publish this piece, that it was an attempt to work through his own feelings at losing a loved one to Alzheimer’s or dementia, and it turned into a story that needed to be shared. I think that in and of itself says a lot about how meaningful this tiny book is, especially for Backman himself.
When I was a senior in high school I lost my own grandfather to dementia. He slowly slipped away from us, forgetting our names, losing his ability for speech, finding himself lost in both place and time. This novella resonated with me on a deeply personal level. It put into words what I’ve often struggled to describe. Backman perfectly captures the sadness of the grandfather, who worries that he is going to forget about falling in love with his wife, the frustration of the son, who is losing his dad even though he is still physically right there, and the innocence of the grandson Noah, who says,
“I’ll tell you about her when you forget, Grandpa. First thing every morning, first of all I’ll tell you about her.”
While deeply sad, this book is at heart a love story — a love story between three generations of men. It is a love story about their relationships, about living and learning and eventually letting go.
It may be short, but those 76 pages pack a meaningful punch. This book felt real. Even as we find ourselves in an imaginary town square that is slowly shrinking inside the mind of the main character, Backman’s portrayal feels so realistic, so true. It offers a glimpse into a mind succumbing to a mysterious and heartbreaking disease, and it offers this glimpse with heart and nostalgia. So often we only see the perspective of those that are left behind, the family members struggling to deal with the loss of a great mind, and eventually the loss of the person. But And Every Morning The Way Home Gets Longer and Longer, while certainly showing us very real depictions of the grieving son and grandson, focuses most on the grandfather himself.
I loved the way we see Grandpa’s mind, as if it were a town square. I love the little details, the dragon, the boats, the keys, the little details that make this place fully formed. I loved the way we see Grandpa’s mind, the square, as if Noah were seeing it.
I can’t even imagine what it might be like to recognize that tomorrow you might not be able to remember all the important things, about yourself and your life. Backman’s main character faces this realization with dignity. He struggles to explain what is happening to his grandson, while he tries to understand for himself. The image of a shrinking space, things disappearing all the time and the way home getting longer and harder to find, was perfect for me. It was creative and clever, and made this difficult to explain and understand disease more approachable.
This book will only take you an hour to read, and it is worth every second of that hour. I will be revisiting this one often, and will be thinking of my own Papa as I thumb through the pages.