Lost Language Explored

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The literature of Alzheimer’s is a cavern unexplored, but Stefan Merrill Block does his best for the New Yorker:

Nearly every novel I’ve read that attempts to depict the internal experience of Alzheimer’s also attempts to fit the disease’s retrogenic symptoms to one sort of sentimental trope: a reckoning with a repressed or unacknowledged truth that must come before acceptance is possible. In Debra Dean’s “The Madonnas of Leningrad,” Alzheimer’s forces someone to relive suppressed wartime trauma. In Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal Dreams,” the disease unearths long-buried memories of a lost grandchild… Even in a book as unsentimental as Jonathan Franzen’s “The Corrections,” dementia (in this case not Alzheimer’s but the neurologically adjacent Parkinson’s) allows anal, angry Alfred to confront his past failings as a husband and a father, in the form of a hallucinated talking turd who tells him to “loosen up.”

Block speaks from experience. It’s a stirring nod towards “a place without words.


Bryan Washington has written for Puerto Del Sol, Ninth Letter, and Midnight Breakfast, among others; he's also the recipient of a Houstonia Fellowship. He lives around New Orleans. More from this author →