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.