August 28, 2006 12:00 PM

By Lee Montgomery




Of the demons afflicting the well-heeled Montgomery family of Framingham, Mass., the most obvious is cancer, ravaging the body of the author’s beloved father, Bob. Equally insidious is alcohol: “Of all the years I live with my parents, my mother is sober for only one,” and even at age 78, Barbara Montgomery begins the day with a cocktail. But the evil the author seems most interested in exorcising with this wrenching, unsentimental memoir of her engineer father’s death from stomach cancer in 1999 is denial, the organizing principle of the family’s life. Lee, a book and magazine editor, and her two siblings move away to avoid the train wreck that is their mother’s existence. Bob fixes Barb’s gin and tonics without comment or complaint. Nobody has the courage to tell him what he clearly doesn’t want to know: He is dying. “The truth leaks into our hearts slowly but surely as we see Dad grow smaller and smaller…. We pretend it’s not happening, and the doctors let us,” Montgomery writes. In confronting the truth, she charts the swirling emotions of anger, fear, regret and love that mortality stirs in her. Montgomery’s portrait of modern death is harrowing, but it’s uplifting, too. In helping her father die, she elicits the thing she wants most when he finally sets aside his Yankee stoicism to say, “I love you, too, Lee. I do.”

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