Review of The Fountain of Youth
for the October, 2017 issue of Midwest Book Review
by D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer
It's rare that romance novels include more than surface passions, and even less common that they embrace issues of dementia, moral and ethical questions, medical conundrums, or the struggles of Alzheimer's patients. Mix all these issues with love and you have a strange blend, indeed.
But one of the special features of The Fountain of Youth lies in its ability to deftly weave all these seemingly-disparate threads into a unified, precise, memorable story line, making it a top recommendation for not just romance readers, but anyone interested in issues of aging, changed capabilities, and the impact a small thing (such as quiz book) can have in one's life.
In this case, narrator Robert Glickman is determined to defy a family history of dementia and his seemingly-inevitable decline by using a quiz book to test his facilities so he can do something about any decline before it really takes hold. In the meantime, he also lives life in Youth Fountain Senior Living Facility (termed "The Fountain of Youth" by its residents - an aptly named old folks' home, where he has an apartment), holds an infatuation with a retired therapist, faces a neurotic and mentally declining sister, confronts a possible hiding Nazi, and interacts with a host of characters who each struggle with their own uncertain lives.
The characters who inhabit The Fountain of Youth are somewhat reminiscent to those in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, minus much of the insanity. They are quirky, obstinate, sometimes defiant personalities who have their own perspectives of their pasts, presents and futures; yet are somewhat to fully cognizant of the fact that the Fountain offers anything but youth or longevity - only a relatively safe haven at the end of the long road of life.
As events and lives unfold, the unexpected happens: Robert's gruff, observational voice becomes a compelling chronicler of the process of facing not only imminent mortality, but the decline of one's connections to life itself. What opens as and seems like an observational piece about an increasingly limited world and abilities becomes a special window into the hearts, minds, and ethical issues facing the aging and those around them at the end of life.
Who has power and control over one's life? What happens when circumstance limits, then takes away, not only abilities, but personalities? The psychological depth belays any possible description of The Fountain of Youth as a romance novel. While many a reader may pick up the story for this element, most will be delightfully surprised at the depth offered by the evolving story, the quirky and fun personalities revealed behind the closed doors of an elderly facility, and especially the story's important message about the right to live and die on one's own terms.
What begins as a seeming romance or institutional probe becomes something much more: a compelling, engrossing story fueled by the passions, perspectives, and worries of Robert as he seeks to take back power in his world, keep his promises, and exert control over his own destiny and the quandaries life and death poses. It's very highly recommended for audiences seeking depth and insights from fictional stories.
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