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Sunday, May 19, 2013
“Moving Miss Peggy,” by Robert Benson, is a memoir of dementia. The author’s mother — the titular Miss Peggy — has, by the time this book starts, already started to show signs of dementia: forgetfulness, worry, and so on.
Benson, who writes “contemplative” books, tells the story of his family’s search for some meaning in his mother’s growing illness. This work, which is really a series of short essays, effectively tells the story of how a family copes when a parent develops dementia.
Unfortunately, Benson’s contemplative style sometimes leads the reader into a sort of peacefulness about the entire process. Benson only seems to show emotion beyond a sort of calm when he writes about visiting a string of subpar nursing homes.
During much of the narrative, Benson seems comfortable accepting and reflecting on his mother’s illness. For those readers who have or had a loved one suffer from dementia, they may ask questions while they read this work: Where is the anger? Where is the introspection?
Benson is a capable writer, and his style is clear and concise. The reader does receive a wonderful portrait of Miss Peggy and her children, but there seems to be very little beyond this portrait.
Compare “Moving Miss Peggy” to Roger Rosenblatt’s “Making Toast,” another memoir of personal loss. Rosenblatt, in writing about the sudden, unexpected death of his daughter, carries the reader through his emotions as well: fear, confusion, anger and sadness are omnipresent in “Making Toast,” and the reader, too, experiences these emotions. In “Moving Miss Peggy,” the reader is only truly dealt one consistent emotion, a constant and incorruptible calm.
Of course, Benson’s belief system is the source of this quiet memoir: His father was a pastor, as is his brother. Benson has written a series of Christian works as well, and his faith is evident throughout “Moving Miss Peggy.” This is fine, and it is wonderful that Benson has a monolithic source of peace to lean on throughout a trying time, but, as a result, the narrative does little to shed light on Benson’s own anguish.
This is not a salacious desire, but rather a realistic quandary: Upon reading “Moving Miss Peggy,” readers of particular faith may be able to connect to Benson’s own peacefulness.
Others, however, may have problems identifying with Benson’s emotions.
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