The in-betweeners

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First Posted: 4/10/2014

What happens to the ones we cherish that still remain, but look upon us as if we are strangers? Carol Levine, who compiled and edited “Living in the Land of Limbo: Fiction and Poetry about Family Caregiving,” brings readers a collection that seeks to answer that question.

In her introduction, Levine writes: “If birth and death are universal, the experience of caring for someone with a chronic or terminal illness is nearly so. Despite a pervasive myth of family abandonment, most people are accompanied and cared for through illness or disability by relatives, friends, and others close to them. These caregivers — ‘family’ understood broadly — live in the land of limbo.”

In the stories and poems that follow, readers are given voices of the in-betweeners — characters who, in attempting to care for a loved one who is ill, must journey to a place where life may only exist as long as the memory can be sustained. We follow each and every caretaker through their similar, yet individual difficulties as they aid their parent, lover, child, or friend. For whatever reason it may be, each character works through accepting the reality of life as it transcends into the unknown.

“Living in the Land of Limbo” is a provoking and delicate contemporary collection that showcases a variety of short fiction and poetry from some of the best writers, including but not limited to Raymond Carver, Alice Munro, Donald Hall, Allegra Goodman, and Ha Jin. Much of the work focuses on caring for those who are physically or mentally incapacitated. While there are over 20 writers in the collection, the pieces are connected by themes of life and the in-between.

The anthology is separated by five sections — Part I: “Children of Aging Parents,” Part II: “Husbands and Wives,” Part III: “Parents and Sick Children,” Part IV: “Relatives, Lovers, and Friends,” and lastly, Part V: “Paid Caregivers.” The first section begins with choice writer Julie Otsuka, who astonishes with her short story “Diem Perdidi” about a daughter caring for her aging mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s.

In the selection, Otsuka writes: “She does not remember how she got the bruises on her arms or going for a walk with you earlier this morning. She does not remember bending over, during that walk, and plucking a flower from a neighbor’s front yard and slipping it into her hair. Maybe your father will kiss me now. She does not remember what she ate for dinner last night, or when she last took her medicine. She does not remember to drink enough water. She does not remember to comb her hair.”

Readers grow close with every character in this collection as they experience frustration, humor, setbacks, improvements, sorrow, love, and even loss. However, we complete the book learning perhaps the most important lesson of all. Life is full of good and bad memories — but we must make the choice as to which will lead us out of the “land of limbo” and into the land of the living.

‘Living in the Land of Limbo’ by Carol Levine Rating: W W W W W