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Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
Literary fiction

Goodbye, Vitamin

Debut

We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Rachel Khong, on your first book!

by Rachel Khong

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Quick take

"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."

Synopsis

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.

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Goodbye, Vitamin

From chapter one:

December 26 Tonight a man found Dad's pants in a tree lit with Christmas lights. The stranger called and said, "I have some pants? Belonging to a Howard Young?" "Well, shit," I said. I put the phone down to verify that Dad was home and had pants on. He was, and did. Yesterday, on Mom's orders, I'd written his name and our number in permanent marker onto the tags of all his clothes. Apparently what he's done, in protest, is pitched the numbered clothing into trees. Up and down Euclid, his slacks and shirts hang from branches. The downtown trees have their holiday lights in them, and this man who called had, while driving, noticed the clothes, illuminated.

December 27 In the morning, when I go to fetch them, city workers are removing the lights from the trees and the decorative bows from the lampposts. One man unties a bow and tosses it to his partner on the ground. All the great bright gold bows are piled in the bed of an enormous pickup truck parked in the plaza. In that same plaza, a frustrated man is saying to his dog, "Why are you being this way?" A baby in a stroller is wearing sunglasses. "Dad, all my hard work," I say, later at home. I've collected a pair of pants, two shirts, a few knotted-up ties. "Now that's unnecessary," Dad says, angrily, when I return them.

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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.

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Member ratings (3,827)

  • Sarah W.

    Centerville, OH

    Goodbye, Vitamin was short and oh so sweet—funny, poignant, and charming, this book pulled me in from start to finish. It was an absolute joy to read; Khong perfectly captures life’s bittersweetness.

  • Katherine D.

    Aurora, CO

    At first I wasn't sure where this book was going and by the end I thought it was hilarious, relatable, heartbreaking and poignant. I'd even read it again to find more symbolism in the diary structure.

  • Matthew C.

    Brooklyn, NY

    Was I actually laughing through the tears as I devoured this book about crashing into adulthood and realizing that everyone else is getting older too? Absolutely. Definitely quirky, yet oh so special.

  • Ashleigh P.

    Beaufort, SC

    I loved this book so much. The main character was hilarious and relatable- the kind of person you want as a friend. The story was heartfelt-not too heavy- beautiful story of an imperfect family. Loved

  • Tyler H.

    Brooklyn, NY

    Loving this book. I can't put it down! I constantly find myself saying "okay, one more journal entry and then I'll tend to my chores!" Feel like Ruth is my best friend and gave me her diary for fun.

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