BookBrowse Reviews Never Coming Back by Alison McGhee

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Never Coming Back

by Alison McGhee

Never Coming Back by Alison McGhee X
Never Coming Back by Alison McGhee
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2017, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2018, 256 pages

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Never Coming Back is a brilliant and piercing story of a young woman finding her way in life, determined to know her mother - and by extension herself - before it's too late.

18 out of 23 reviewers gave Alison McGhee's Never Coming Back a rating of 4 or 5, with an average score of 4.4. Nearly all of them spoke about how the novel touched them personally, hit close to home, and offered them insights into their own lives.

Overall, readers had so many good things to say:

A compassionate, unflinching, deeply moving testament to the bond between mothers and daughters. Clara Winter knows her mother, Tamar, loves her despite not always understanding her staunchly independent behavior. Clara's adult life is plagued by questions she believes only her mother can answer. But now her mother has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's and as time is running out for the resolutions to these issues, Clara begins to wonder if she really knows who her mother is (Beverly J). This was the best book that I have read this year. I had tears streaming down my face more than once. Alison McGhee just "gets" the whole mother/daughter dynamic and has been able to put it down on paper without being overly cynical or overly sweet (Beverly D). The pulse of Clara's regular visits to Tamar acts like a metronome on the narrative, confining the action as surely as the mother and daughter are restrained by their life choices. With exquisite delicacy, author McGhee reveals the emotional glue of these two eccentric, introverted and self-sufficient women. The small cast of intimate characters matches the spare nature of the Winters' lives and the Adirondack setting is true to isolated mountain life (Claire M). Some novels make you laugh. Some novels make you think...but the best novels make you feel empathy for the character and touch your own emotional psyche. This book does it. It moved me and I guess that's the best compliment I can give (Colleen L).

They also made it clear that this is not just another story about Alzheimer's; at its core it is a story about the importance of language:

Words loom large in this story: words in books, song lyrics, and in recalled conversations, yet the author writes sparingly, drawing the plot out slowly, adding layer after layer. The story is both simple and complicated because that's how real life is (Priscilla M). This is so much more than another book about Alzheimer's disease. It's about the power of words to heal or harm; to evoke calm or tension (Loretta F). Words are wrapped around the heart of Clara Winter, sometimes they squeeze her so hard her heart races dangerously, threatening to tear her apart. Tamar Winter says little, explains less and is determined to do things her way, keeping her reasons to herself. How can a mother and daughter resolve misunderstandings of the past when they are engaged in a classic standoff? (Claire M) Of particular interest is the "Jeopardy" motif that appears frequently and quietly holds the narrative together. I also enjoyed the references to language and "bon mots" that are sprinkled throughout! (Kimberly A)

Many readers were reminded of their mothers:

The writing is spectacular, both tender and raw with well-drawn characters. McGhee pulls you in swiftly and holds you until the end. Her characters and their feelings will stay with you long after you turn the last page and make you want to call your mother (Julie M). Realizing that mothers are real people who were once young, vibrant and interesting people before they became mothers of teenagers is just one of the take-always from this story (Gretchen M). To be honest, I almost didn't read this book because I just lost my mom and I knew it would be difficult to read…but instead it made me more thankful for her because we had no great secrets and I always knew that she was a person separate from being my mom (Susan R). I didn't realize how much this book would actually hit home for me. I have a mother who is diagnosed with dementia/Alzheimer's. At first I had no problem reading the book but, as it went on, it became more apparent that it was too close for comfort. I had a great deal of difficulty finishing the book but I made my way through it…The author did a superb job, I am glad that I did not give up on it (Kristen H).

Readers recommend this novel to:

I highly recommend this book for adult readers as well as young adults...a perfect book club entry. Bravo! (Beverly D) I recommend this book to any daughter who is not as close to her mother as she'd like to be. That is me, and I've learned some valuable truths here (Loretta F). I think this would be a great book club book although it might be difficult for some to read if they have family members with this debilitating disease (Carol N). I think this is a special book for a very special reader and not the general population (Susan O). When the act of living is peeled back to its essence, then we hold on to what truly gives us meaning. What is that for Clara, for Tamar? Book group members will have much to discuss and ample opportunity for personal reflection as well (Claire M).

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in November 2017, and has been updated for the October 2018 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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