Sarah Leavitt takes on the difficult task of chronicling the devastating loss of both her mother, and her mother’s memory to Alzheimer’s, in this graphic novel. Alzheimer’s makes us wonder who we are without our memories. And this memory loss disease is particularly cruel because it’s rarely predictable, and while progressive, the sufferer of the disease can vacillate from being fully adult to childlike, unreachably cut off by anger, fear or silence.

Leavitt handles this difficult memoir with aplomb. She states in her introduction, “I’ve always had a really bad memory. So when my mom got Alzheimer’s disease, I knew that I had to record what was happening to her and to our family. I wanted to be able to look back over my notes and remember all the moments of craziness, beauty and tragedy—and not lose any of them.”

She notes, “I often felt like Harriet the Spy, or, in darker moments, like a vulture hovering and waiting for Mom to say or do something that I could record and preserve, even as she slipped away from me.” Readers will share Leavitt’s awkwardness and fears of invading a parent’s privacy as she is forced by the invasive disease to bathe, dress and mother her mother.

Leavitt’s biography is also a memoir of how a family handles this extended crisis. Aunts, a loving husband, Leavitt and her sister all learn to roll with the punches using sympathy, patience, anger and humor to survive the stress of Mom’s crazy behavior, always trying their best to preserve Mom’s dignity. Leavitt’s lesbianism and Judaism help hold her together. Her girlfriend Donimo takes on the roll of caretaker equally, and when her mother dies, Leavitt finds some comfort in the Jewish tradition of saying Kaddish.

Finally, it’s the details in this book that will make it ring true to caretakers and those dealing with memory loss. “Am I a stringle?” Leavitt’s mom asks. Readers will feel the same compassion, loss and sense of poetry Leavitt feels, fielding nonsensical questions from her mom, a Harvard-educated intellectual. The black and white line drawings are simple but effective in capturing the complex emotions this story involves.

The disease inevitably triumphs, but Leavitt’s book throws a valiant punch in the gut of Alzheimer’s, for though the disease steals her mom away, it can’t touch this vivid recorded memory of the woman and her loving family.


Tangles: A Story about Alzheimer’s, My Mother and Me
Sarah Leavitt
Skyhorse Publishing
Paperback, 9781616086398, 312 pp.
May 2012

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2 Responses to “‘Tangles: A Story about Alzheimer’s, My Mother, and Me’ by Sarah Leavitt”

  1. 14 June 2012 at 3:31 AM #

    Glad to read this well-deserved review of Tangles.
    When I read my copy, I forced myself to read it slowly, as I found myself savouring each and every page. And, being my first graphic novel, I noticed how deep the amount of detail was in the simplest of drawings and how much emotion they evoked in me.
    Then I would read the accompanying text, and found the process fascinating.
    I might have thought such a subject might only be sad, but the book is filled with incredible warmth, moments of true laugh-out-loud humour, and yes, sadness… but ultimately I felt like I knew the whole family, and/or like I wanted to know them. I think it is Sarah’s skill as a writer that creates a sense of familiarity, and I relished the experience.
    I’m must admit I know the author through her wonderful partner, so I’d just like to note that Sarah’s partner is called Donimo – note the differing spelling. (Have to give my friend a shout out!.

    Thank you for sharing Tangles with your readers here; I think it’s a story that deserves to shared as much as possible. :)

    • 14 June 2012 at 9:36 PM #

      And thank you for taking the time to read the review and comment! Sorry about the name confusion – too much Spellcheck!

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