The Pleasure Was Mine

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I've had this book on my shelf for a while and always thought it would make a good book club discussion. When I looked at it in consideration for my upcoming hosting in April I was worried it would be too much like our February book "Marrow" as it seemed to be about nursing a loved one in their last days. As I began reading it I found it to have a lot of similarities to "A Man Called Ove" which was our March selection.

The book reads a lot like a memoir and it is easy to forget it is fiction. Worth noting, however, according to the reviews on the back cover, that the author has personal experience in losing a loved one to Alzheimer's. From the first snippet I was drawn in. By page 7 Irene's antics were recognizable as my own loved ones' antics when they have suffered mental decline. Not recognizing their own house where they've lived for almost fifty years, walking through the neighborhood at night and winding up at a familiar friend's house, always pleasant women suddenly cursing out their family, and a hundred and eighty degree changes in mood like the flip of a switch.

Not only does he accurately reflect people with Alzheimer's but Hays is also spot on in his portrayal of a young boy with a flashlight, (p. 165-166) which adds to the real feeling of this fictionalized story.

On a scale of 1 - 5 (5 being a lot of examples/instances):

Sex: 2

Religion: 1

Gruesome: 0

Suspense: 1

Morality: 4

Traditional: 5

Sex - allusion, "She danced circles around him and they never got to the dance floor." (p. 52) Later this incident is referenced again in a vague nod to the time in the car. Doctor suggests relations are not out of the question with Alzheimer patients. (p. 105-107) Ch. 13 - doctor's suggestion become reality, it is minor and brief but there are many questions about the appropriateness.

Religion - "Kissing Irene for the first time was as close to a religious experience as i ever got." (p. 52)

Gruesome - Nothing even remotely gruesome that I recall.

Suspense - There were a few situations that were minorly suspenseful.

Morality - Not preachy but definitely some nice people trying to do the right thing.

Traditional - Many examples of, 'til death do us part.

Like Ove, Prate was not fond of cats but his wife was. Both wives were teachers, both husbands were blue collar. Both wives lost their mothers at a young age. (p. 26) Like Ove, Prate can be gruff and imagines or hears his wife's voice telling him to be nice. Like Ove, Prate thought the people who exercised around the neighborhood were silly.

I usually find a book more favorable if it provides some tidbit of good life advice. My opinion of this book is Highly Favorable. The good life advice came in on p. 229 regarding one's purpose on earth. Prate felt like taking care of Irene had been his purpose and now that she had other people caring for her he had no purpose in life. A neighbor reminds him he still has the purpose of being a good father, grandfather and neighbor.

Discussion Questions

Read and discuss "When You Are Old" by Yeats. (opening quote)

When Prate would watch TV with Irene in the evenings at Rolling Hills he thought, "It was a little like old times or how old times should have been." (p. 10) What did he mean by this?

Discuss aspects of nursing home life:

  • "The less you could take care of yourself, the less you were taken care of." (p. 11)

  • They die a little more every day, the end is more about vital signs. (p. 33)

  • The older we become, the smaller the victories. (p. 35)

  • "...something wearing about the [nursing home] and the unnatural concentration of so many old and failing people" (p. 41)

  • Breeding grounds for illness because of infirm in close quarters (p. 246)

Prate said "Jude" by Thomas Hardy (p. 21) made him feel life wasn't so bad. What books put your life in perspective?

What can the book teach us about loss and how we spend our time on earth. (pgs. 42-43)

Mr. Gudger (the grocery store man) said he didn't "really care to know the particulars concerning [his] demise". (p. 47) Do you?

How would you feel if the telephone repair person visited your spouse? (p. 97)

Do the costs of healthcare and therapy justify the end? (p. 100)

Was Prate right to wave Dot on in her escape? (p. 109) What was his motivation?

If a stranger told you it was the best time of your life - how would it inspire you? How would you react? (Ch. 8)

Irene described Prate to Billie as "a self-deprecating son of a gun". (p. 134) Prate was surprised that Irene had said that to Billie and wondered if he ever knew her. As a person's mental faculties decline, they often lose their filter and say things that surprise their loved ones. How can a person reconcile what they hear with the person they knew?

A few times Irene refers to Rolling Hills as the place she is "kept". (p. 157) Discuss kept and put in relation to people, particularly how our vocabulary changes as people age.

"Tragedy had made a man out of Newell, like the War had for the young fellows of my generation. Nowadays men grew up late, in the trenches of home." (p. 182) Do young men need an event to mature? What can substitute for war or tragedy?

Was Prate's prayer, that if Irene was suffering to give her eternal sleep, a selfish prayer? (p. 202)

Prate thought that Irene, having been a good mother and wife, had kept Prate and Newell apart (unintentionally). (p. 214) How does a woman bridge that gap?

Is there a way to really know what you have before it's gone? (ref. p. 244)

How memorable are dinners with your spouse? (p. 251-252)

Theme Ideas

Serve KFC as Prate often ate and Ginger Snaps like Irene made for Jackson. (p. 18)

Serve cream cheese and pineapple sandwiches like Irene made when he was painting her dad's house. (p. 26) Serve with cookies and iced tea.

Serve blackberries (end Ch. 9) like Jackson and Prate ate when they arrived at Newell's in the woods, and later they watched the bears eat them.

Serve apple pie and ice cream like Prate and Irene ate in the diner at the end of the story. (p. 253)

Recreate the dinner Billie served on p. 232:

Meet at an art studio.