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This Room Is Yours by Michael Stein (Permanent Press).

Michael Steins fourth novel, This Room is Yours, is a moving, quietly compelling book about Alzheimers disease, the shifting caretaking roles of children and parents, and the often fluid paths of memory.

Stein is a physician and professor of medicine at Brown, and in this brief but vivid novel we watch the continuing fallout as his narrator, an unnamed thirty-five-year-old high school English teacher with a young son, a wife, and an ailing lawn, brings his estranged mother from her home in New Jersey to Cherry Orchard, an assisted-living facility on Providences East Side.

The narrators mother is depressed, becoming continually more baffled by daily events, and suffering from memory lapsesan early sign Alzheimersand the decision to place her at Cherry Orchard is one the narrator calls monstrous and confusing. The narrator was just thirteen when his father died, and the boy often felt abandoned and betrayed by his social worker mother, a bossy, spirited, independent woman who lived in a state of disappointment, he tells us.

Through the sons Thursday-morning visits to Cherry Orchard we witness both his mothers slow descent, as simple tasks like taking a shower and making conversation at dinner become increasingly fraught, and the narrators incremental shift from embittered son to forgiving caretaker. We see him reluctantly open to his mothers side of their story, even as her memory erodes. Stein evokes this tightening family bond while we watch the narrator struggle to understand it.

The story emerges through sparkling, essay-like segments that, while running a basic chronological line, veer off on rewarding tangents. Particularly interesting are recurring Readers Guide sections, which Stein uses to fill in background about Alzheimers or to allow his narrator, who is ostensibly turning this material into a novel, to muse on the nature of storytelling and the tangled relationship between truth, memory, and fiction. These sections add a surprising resonance to a well-crafted narrative, one that captures the nuances embedded in the dilemmas that face both parents and their adult children when the roles theyve always lived with begin to change.

Edward Hardy is the author of the novel Geyser Lifeand a visiting lecturer in the expository writing program.

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