A slim but powerful volume, Goodbye, Vitamin is written in journal-like dispatches as Ruth watches her father, Howard, slide down the tunnel of Alzheimer’s disease. Ruth, a 30-year-old sonographer whose own path was derailed by an unexpected breakup, moves home for a year to help care for Howard.
A recovering alcoholic, occasional philanderer and well-loved professor, Howard is a complicated father figure. He kept mustard packets in his glove compartment to disguise alcohol breath, but also kept in that same glove compartment a photo from an old family vacation to Washington, D.C. He is also somewhat of an idol for Ruth, who left for college before his father’s behavior really escalated.
“Okay, but listen: this is why I so seldom visited,” Ruth explains. “I wanted to preserve my memory of my perfect father. I didn’t want to know the many ways he’d hurt my mother. I didn’t want to have to pick sides.”
Ruth drifts through the first weeks at home, but is then approached by Howard’s teaching assistant, who proposes setting up a fake class for the languishing Howard to teach. The class is populated with graduate students who know Howard, including, Ruth realizes, one woman who recently had a dalliance with him. As Ruth comes to grips with the messy reality of her family, she strengthens her ties with her long-suffering mom and younger brother.
Rachel Khong’s first novel (she also authored the wonderfully titled All About Eggs: Everything We Know About the World’s Most Important Food) offers the fresh, quirky voice of a young woman who is straddling wide-eyed youth and world-weariness. She’s given to random ruminations, such as, “Something else I appreciate about hangovers: You are given the chance to value your regular things. Water, for instance, becomes so delicious and appealing.” Goodbye, Vitamin is a funny and beautiful meditation on family bonds and finding one’s place in an ever-changing world.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Q&A with Rachel Khong for Goodbye, Vitamin.