Hearts and Minds

Among death and illness memoirs, John Thorndike’s The Last of His Mind has refreshing strengths. Thorndike combines an elegant, expressive prose line with an unsparing honesty and a willingness to plumb the depths of his experiences — even those that are frightening or ugly. He doesn’t hesitate to describe the intimate tasks he undertook in caring for his Alzheimer’s-stricken father; he puts on the table his own struggles as a writer; he even gives the reader a straightforward account of the money arrangements he made with his brothers to compensate for the one year of his life devoted to their father.

As he attends to the minutiae of daily care, Thorndike reviews his own past: the mother, who died when he was thirty; his wife, a beautiful woman from Chile who suffered from schizophrenia and committed suicide, leaving him to bring up their son, Janir, alone. Most of all, he finds new ways of loving and understanding his father. Joe Thorndike had a strong literary background of his own, having been the managing editor of Life magazine during that publication’s heyday. Dignified, patrician, the soul of civility, he was, however, an undemonstrative man who avoided the physical touch his son craved. As Joe failed, John dressed and fed him; at his death, John’s hand covered his failing heart.

Thorndike, who lived in Boulder for several years and taught writing at the University of Colorado, will read from The Last of His Mind tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Boulder Book Store, 1107 Pearl Street in Boulder (call 303-447-2074 for more information), and again at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 31 at the Tattered Cover Book Store, 2426 East Colfax Avenue (call 303-322-7727).
Mon., March 29, 7:30 p.m., 2010


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