STARRED REVIEW
October 10, 2017

Together at the end

By Alison McGhee
Review by

Leaving home is a contradiction in terms; we can never truly leave behind the place that shaped us, nor the people who played a part in our molding. Never Coming Back explores that most unbreakable bond forged at home, the bond between mother and daughter.

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Leaving home is a contradiction in terms; we can never truly leave behind the place that shaped us, nor the people who played a part in our molding. Never Coming Back explores that most unbreakable bond forged at home, the bond between mother and daughter.

In this emotional continuation of the story she began in Shadow Baby, Alison McGhee transports us back to the Northern woods of Sterns, New York, and the Winter women, Tamar and Clara. Clara had escaped to Florida after college and lived there for years until Tamar’s recent erratic behavior is given a name—Alzheimer’s. Early onset. Not words anyone ever wants to hear, especially someone who feels the weight of words like Clara does. As her mother’s mind and thoughts shrink, Clara’s expands with memory and feeling and unanswered questions.

In Clara’s recollections, we see Tamar before her illness took hold: acerbic and guarded, burdened by life experience as well as the choices she made that she was unable to help her daughter understand. The precocious 11-year-old Clara in Shadow Baby has turned inward, defending herself against (and because of) tragedy. Curious as a child, with a never-ending wellspring of wonderings, now-32-year-old Clara hides her deeper adult anguish behind well-chosen words, sarcastic “Jeopardy” references and a wire tattoo symbolically holding her together. Her anger at Tamar’s potential role in Clara’s breakup with Asa, her first love, fuels Clara’s initial interactions with her mother, until Clara slowly begins to see with a new perspective—someone else’s perspective, her mother’s perspective.

McGhee’s own gift for words takes you to the very heart of this tense yet tender relationship. Through vivid and meandering dips into memory, McGhee draws us into Clara’s rapidly shifting thoughts as she tries to piece together previous assumptions with new discoveries. Encouraged by her friends and Tamar’s confidante, Annabelle, Clara learns more fully the true power of words, both spoken and heard. On this journey of return, Clara finds herself on the path toward redemption, acceptance and love.

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Never Coming Back

Never Coming Back

By Alison McGhee
HMH
ISBN 9781328767561

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