at times, only fiction will do

I have been searching for the impossible.

I want to read from the perspective of inside a demented brain. Looking out at the world from that place, what do I see, hear, feel? How?

There are some blogs and articles by those with early-onset dementia or Alzheimer’s, who describe their experience. But I want to know what my mom sees, how her brain trundles along or crackles. Who can record that landscape?

In interviews about Beloved, her novel on slavery and the Middle Passage, Toni Morrison discusses the unspeakable nature of slavery and names artists as the healers, the ones who must perform rites of exorcism and redemption.

And so I find a description of what I think it must be like in my mother’s brain when I read a passage from Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. Alfred Lambert, the octogenarian patriarch of the novel, has Parkinson’s and dementia. In this passage, he attempts to eat a snack prepared by his daughter, Denise, a chef:

But Denise left the kitchen and took the plate to Alfred, for whom the problem of existence was this: that, in the manner of a wheat seedling thrusting itself up out of the earth, the world moved forward in time by adding cell after cell to its leading edge, piling moment on moment, and that to grasp the world even in its freshest, youngest moment provided no guarantee that you’d be able to grasp it again a moment later. . . . and no sooner had he re-confirmed Denise and the snacks and Chip’s living room than the leading edge of time added yet another layer of new cells, so that he again faced a new and ungrasped world; which was why, rather than exhaust himself playing catch-up, he preferred more and more to spend his days down among the unchanging historical roots of things. (66)

There are other such passages, and I marvel at how well Franzen’s imagination and language translate the interior of a demented brain into something we recognize, a moment when we say, “Yes. That’s exactly how I thought it might be.”