The Leisure Seeker – book review

My long delay in posting is really inexcusable.  The advent of Spring, sinus issues, and spending time with the girls outdoors.  But today is rainy (gardeners rejoice!) and Sophie and Isabel are not due for a couple of hours.

The Leisure Seeker is a work of fiction, one of the few such books I have reviewed though cancer movies are invariably fictional.  The support group book club I attend discussed this book last month.  Although in no way a cancer memoir, the novel deals with relevant issues of marriage, aging, deteriorating health and promise keeping.

Michael Zadoorian, the writer, is a Detroit native and has written of his city before.  Appropriately then this novel begins in the Motor City.  The Leisure Seeker is a road-trip story so a starting point in the city built by the automobile industry automatically assumes the folk-fantasy of the country’s car culture.

The Robinas are the aging couple who set off on a westward trek across America, tracing the forgotten, abandoned roads of the legendary Route 66.  Their destination – the original Disneyland.  Ella is the brains and driving force of the operation if only because John is suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s.  Ella, however, is dealing with her own demons.  She has advanced cancer, probably breast or ovarian – we are never told.

The story is written in the first person, Ella’s, given John’s addled mind.  The couple travels in their aging RV, a Leisure Seeker model, which has served the couple and their two children over the years as they crisscrossed America on vacations that become the stuff of family memory and history.  The children are now well into their adult lives with children of their own.  They are opposed to the idea of this dubious pair traveling alone across dubious roads in a well-worn camper.

Ella acknowledges the couple’s shortcomings but together, she figures, she and John comprise one capable person.  For all his memory loss, the task of driving a van has become almost instinctual.  Ella navigates and makes decisions about stopping for gas, food, and rest.  Their stopping points are the lost way-stations and campgrounds of another era.  Their progress is marked both by the memory of earlier adventures as well as a few new ones.

The story is sweetly told which serves several purposes.  We are drawn into their relationship even as John occasionally slips away from it.  Though Ella shows signs of increasing weariness and issues with her cancer, her inner strength, humor, and general feistiness seems to carry them both forward.  Their relationship appears honest although John does not seem to be aware of his wife’s illness.  Periodically on their journey, the couple yell and curse at each other.

Memories of the past are woven throughout the narrative, serving as an illustrative counterpoint to this closing chapter of an otherwise quiet and inconsequential of a life together.  Their road adventures are all believable, evolving naturally and without exaggeration.  The people they met are equally well-drawn, adding brief color and insight without giving in to a writer’s temptation to populate this kind of story with a series of likable eccentrics.

The tone is sweet.  We grow to like, admire, and empathize with Ella’s losing plight.  Her kids and her doctors want her to return.  But she is looking for a last hurrah, a golden sunset.  Ella yearns for some control as her health and John’s mind slowly, inexorably slip away.  In the last chapter we are grateful for the sweetness of the tale.  It serves to open us to the unexpected and quietly emotional ending.

Perhaps more illuminating of Alzheimer’s than cancer, The Leisure Seeker nonetheless provides meditation for the choices we must eventually make.

Order from Amazon thru this site: The Leisure Seeker: A Novel

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About Dennis Pyritz

Dennis W. Pyritz, RN, BA, BSN, has been a cancer nurse since 1987 and a cancer and bone marrow transplant survivor since 2004. In December 2001 he was diagnosed with t-cell prolymphocytic leukemia (T-PLL), a rare aggressive form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Dennis was treated with the then new monoclonal antibody, alemtuzumab (Campath) as this disease has a median survival of 7.5 months. He achieved a 26 month remission but relapsed in February 2004. He was retreated with Campath and went into a second remission. In August 2004 he underwent an allogeneic peripheral blood stem cell transplant with his brother, Mark, as donor. Dennis has remained in remission since - a near miracle. Throughout his career as cancer nurse and patient, Dennis has had the opportunity to speal to both lay and professional groups. Dennis has spoken on cancer topics and survival issues across the country as well as in the United Kingdom, Norway, Austria, Portugal, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, Trinidad, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Cyrpus, Israel, and India.

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