Goodbye, Vitamin, Rachel Khong: Book Review

A short, whimsical novel packed with meaningful lessons.

goodbye vitamin rachel khong book reviewScribner UK / Rachel Khong
Goodbye, Vitamin Book Cover Goodbye, Vitamin
Rachel Khong
Henry Holt and Co.
July 11th 2017

A young woman returns home to care for her failing father in this fine, funny, and inescapably touching debut, from an affecting and wonderfully original new literary voice.

A few days after Christmas in a small suburb outside of L.A., pairs of a man's pants hang from the trees. The pants belong to Howard Young, a prominent history professor, recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Howard's wife, Annie, summons their daughter, Ruth. Freshly disengaged from her fiance and still broken up about it, feeling that life has not turned out quite the way she planned, thirty-year-old Ruth quits her job and arrives home to find her parents' situation worse than she'd realized. Her father is erratically lucid and her mother, a devoted and creative cook, sees the sources of memory loss in every pot and pan. But as Howard's condition intensifies, the comedy in Ruth's situation takes hold, gently transforming her grief. She throws herself into caretaking: cooking dementia-fighting meals (a feast of jellyfish!), researching supplements, anything to reignite her father's once-notable memory. And when the university finally lets Howard go, Ruth and one of her father's handsome former students take their efforts to help Howard one step too far.

Rachel Khong‘s debut novel Goodbye, Vitamin tells the story of a woman returning home to help her father as he descends into his Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Told in a startlingly distinct style, this book captures the mundane and the ridiculous of everyday life and turns it into something rather thought-provoking.

Our main character in this short novel is Ruth, a 30-year-old who returns to her home in Southern California. With a relationship behind her and no concrete plans for the future, Ruth is dedicated to helping out with her dad, a former history professor, who is in the midst of Alzheimer’s. Ruth adores her dad and seems to turn a blind eye to his past discretions, which include a drinking problem and a string of affairs. But this book is not just chronicling her beloved father’s battle with Alzheimer’s, though that definitely is a huge part of it; this book focuses rather on Ruth having to come to terms with her own broken past and how she should move on.

Goodbye, Vitamin is essentially a collection of Ruth’s observations and reflections, told in a somewhat diary-entry format. Khong is evidently a strong believer in the “less is more” approach, so the reader is given only glimpses into Ruth’s brain rather than a full window to peer through. Much time is spent examining relationships – the romantic one that has left quite the scar upon Ruth’s heart, the different relationships that are at play in her own family dynamic, and even the relationship that she has with herself. There is also a plentiful amount of random facts – yes, random facts – that are sprinkled throughout the book, which further helps paint Ruth’s slightly eccentric character. One gets the impression that Ruth would be a solid contestant on Jeopardy! 

That said, this type of writing style is not for everyone. I had some trouble adjusting to it at first, and every now and again a sentence or paragraph would kind of bother me. However, I was able to gain an appreciation for Khong’s unique style and sense of voice. Her method is extremely sparse, and it felt very stream-of-consciousness. My highest praise in regards to this book is how Khong possesses the incredible ability to pack meaning into the simplest sentences. I often found myself re-reading what at first appears to be an everyday observation but ultimately conceals a much deeper, more profound lesson. However, I must admit that the writing was just trying a little too hard for my taste at times. The word “pretentious” comes to mind, though it is not present on every page.

Her characters all seem rather witty and quirky, especially the main character, Ruth, in a way that is both charmingly entertaining and blatantly unrealistic. It reminds a bit of The Fault in Our Stars in this aspect: though I loved the insights and dialogue of the incredibly self-aware and intelligent characters, it gets hard to swallow sometimes.

This book is incredibly short and very easy to get through, with its uncluttered style and rapid pacing. I read the whole thing in the span of one day. This isn’t something I would normally read, but I’m glad that I gave it a chance. I look forward to reading more of Khong’s writing in the future.

Alicia LeBoeuf
the authorAlicia LeBoeuf
Contributing Writer
I'm a college student pursuing an English major and Communication minor. I love everything book-related and I'm a passionate writer.