Morningside Heights

Pantheon. Jun. 2020. 304p. ISBN 9781524748357. $26.95. F
Historically, literature has been filled with stories of the transformative influence that gifted educators have had on usually petulant students. Recently, however, literature seems to have yanked away the pedestal on which those admired paragons stood, leaving their flawed, beleaguered successors ankle-deep in mud. In this latest from Henkin (Swimming across the Hudson), the problem for brilliant Shakespeare scholar Spence Robin is early-onset Alzheimer’s. Spence, a popular, high-achieving man of letters, rapidly comes to depend more and more on the help of his colleagues and especially of his wife, Pru. Though Spence’s disease is the predicate of this contemporary narrative, the story’s focus is on his family and caregivers and their struggles to balance the empathy they naturally feel toward Spence with their need to take care of themselves. Pru, especially, agonizes once she starts a new relationship with another man even as Spence continues to need her love and care. Nevertheless, though he recedes mentally and emotionally, Spence, through the agency of his disease, continues to influence and motivate those around him.
VERDICT Henkin treats the complications of a complicated disease with insight, honesty, and humanity, in a style that is as readable as it is consummately literate.
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