Book Group: This month's book - The Story Of My Father, by Sue Miller

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The Independent Culture

The Story of My Father is the American novelist Sue Miller's memoir of a beloved parent's descent into the darkness of Alzheimer's disease - her first non-fiction work.

The Story of My Father is the American novelist Sue Miller's memoir of a beloved parent's descent into the darkness of Alzheimer's disease - her first non-fiction work.

Detractors sometimes call this kind of book "SickLit" but Miller's book works hard to avoid the usual pitfalls of sentimentality and voyeurism.

She writes in the dry, even tone of her intellectual Yankee upbringing. We are given little high drama, not many tears, but a lot of cool analysis, both of the origins and progress of Alzheimer's itself, and its effect on her own and her father's life. Miller sneaks in a fair amount of bone-dry humour, too, as her deluded father imagines his old people's home as a college ("Well, no one ever seems to graduate from here"), falls in love with and "marries" his carer, or complains that he has to deliver a lecture on Hamlet.

In the end, perhaps, the disease remains marginal to Miller's memoir. She returns to the impossibility of knowing completely any other person. Is this a counsel of despair, or its opposite? And does the "consolation" Miller found in building a narrative about this life work for non-writers as well as for professional story-tellers such as her?

Sue Miller, now 60, was born into a family of New England preachers and teachers. She studied at Harvard and Boston universities and started to write seriously in her thirties. Her first novel, The Good Mother, became a bestseller on publication in 1986. The Story of My Father, her first non-fictional work, is now published in paperback by Bloomsbury (£7.99).

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