Polar Vortex: A Family Memoir

The Experiment. Mar. 2024. 256p. ISBN 9781615199051. pap. $19.95. MEMOIR
Her middle-aged life exported largely to England, Dorrance maintains a warm if increasingly tiresome phone relationship with her 91-year-old widowed mother in Cedar Rapids, IA. Then she’s contacted by a local aging support service: her mom’s in the hospital after a fall and shows signs of dementia. Dorrance must fly back to sort it out. She finds herself traveling this well-worn path during an icy Midwest winter, with Death for company. Appearing as the classic scythe-toting specter, that timeless worthy adversary offers insights, bromides, and grim humor while Dorrance contemplates her past relationship with her mom, complicated by quarrels with her California-based sister. Although resisting her new role at first, she finally takes charge. This is a pitch-perfect piece of work—frank and self-critical narration, incorporating photos and postcards, dread-drenched pacing, and beautifully limpid blue-gray/russet art. Engaging sequences include an imaginary Dr. Ruth providing advice and outlining her mom’s options envisioned as a Let’s Make a Deal game show.
VERDICT Dorrance’s (It’s All About Mimi) gorgeous, plaintive story speaks to those caring for aging parents and realizing they must eventually prepare for their own exits. A lyrical read-alike for Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast.
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