"As it dazzles and delights, as it compels you to fall in love with the people within its pages, it too shows you what is impossibly hard about love, about life."
Why I love it
I’ve always been a fan of a certain kind of summer read—the book you take to the beach, expecting only fun and laughter, when it blindsides you with emotion and devastating insights until you’re both laughing and crying, tears and sand on your cheeks combining into an abrasive paste that would feel painful if you weren’t completely immersed in an incredible book. (Just me?) The kind of book that matches lightness with a certain level of darkness, feeling all the more true and alive because it contains everything alongside everything else, the way our lives do.
This summer, that book is Goodbye, Vitamin, the debut novel from former Lucky Peach editor Rachel Khong. Told in diary format, the novel follows a young woman named Ruth, whose life is in somewhat of a shambles after a broken engagement. She moves back home to help her mother care for her father, a history professor who has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Heavy stuff—and Goodbye, Vitamin never shies away from it. But I also want to talk about how this book is a pure and utter delight to read. Ruth is a narrator you’d follow anywhere, her perspective hilarious, playful, and keenly observant. Though she’s often perplexed and unsure of what to do, she’s also always trying to make the best of things. One of the ways in which she tries to help is through food, as she cooks for her tired family and continually tries to entice her father to eat. (As to be expected from Khong, her writing about food is always fascinating, startling, and delectable, and is one of the many great joys of Goodbye, Vitamin.)
Along with Ruth, every one of the characters feels alive. Her mother, her father, her brother, her friends, her father’s former grad students—they are wonderful, strange, and infuriating (sometimes all at once) in the way of people you love or could love. And that’s how Goodbye, Vitamin gets you: As it dazzles and delights, as it compels you to fall in love with the people within its pages, it too shows you what is impossibly hard about love, about life. The book explores questions like: What do we owe each other? How do we forgive people when they change, especially when we haven’t fully forgiven them for who they were before? How are we supposed to let go at the same time we’re desperately trying to hold on to what we can?
Full of food, family, friendship, and love, Goodbye, Vitamin contains everything a reader might need to make them happy, while also showing how these things can be taken away, whether by accident or time. It is heartbreaking. It is a joy. Which means, of course, Goodbye, Vitamin is a perfect summer book.
Her life at a crossroads, a young woman goes home again in this funny and inescapably moving debut from a wonderfully original new literary voice.
Freshly disengaged from her fiancé and feeling that life has not turned out quite the way she planned, thirty-year-old Ruth quits her job, leaves town and arrives at her parents’ home to find that situation more complicated than she'd realized. Her father, a prominent history professor, is losing his memory and is only erratically lucid. Ruth’s mother, meanwhile, is lucidly erratic. But as Ruth's father’s condition intensifies, the comedy in her situation takes hold, gently transforming her all her grief.
Told in captivating glimpses and drawn from a deep well of insight, humor, and unexpected tenderness, Goodbye, Vitamin pilots through the loss, love, and absurdity of finding one’s footing in this life.