Title: Goodbye, Vitamin
Author: Rachel Khong
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Page Count: 208
Publication Date: 2017
Category/Genre: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction,
Good Reads Rating: ★★★★☆ (3.73)
Goodbye, Vitamin is the wry, beautifully observed story of a woman at a crossroads, as Ruth and her friends attempt to shore up her father’s career; she and her mother obsess over the ambiguous health benefits – in the absence of a cure – of dried jellyfish supplements and vitamin pills; and they all try to forge a new relationship with the brilliant, childlike, irascible man her father has become.
*Questions are a mix from Rabbit Hole Blogger and the publisher. Questions may contain spoilers.
1. Goodbye, Vitamin is essentially a story about a father and daughter. Discuss the many layers of Ruth and Howard’s relationship.
2. As Ruth finds a new love interest she reflects on her heartbreak with Joel and the failed relationships in between. How is the cycle of breaking, hurting, and healing portrayed?
3. “A few weeks after the engagement someone asked what I was looking forward to, about marrying Joel, and I thought: the clarity. But that was kind of pulled out from under me.” Can there be clarity when things fall apart? Does Ruth find clarity?
4. Howard keeps a notebook of letters to Ruth that he’s collected since her childhood. Which notebook entry did you find most resonant?
5. Ruth says, “I think what it is, is that when I was young, my mother was her best version of herself. And here I am, now, a shitty grown-up, and messing it all up, and a disappointment” Ruth is slowly coming to terms with how she envisioned her thirties. Discuss this dichotomy between our expectations and reality.
6. How does the book treat the function of memory— the way it identifies us, fails us, haunts us, pains us … and, of course, enables us to function? Ruth once describes her memory, for example of Joel, “like an ancient candlestick from some wrecked ship.” What does she mean by that? Talk about your experiences with your own memory. Are we our memories?
7. What roles do patience and forgiveness play in Annie and Howard’s marriage?
8. Annie clears the house of all food she deems harmful which might exacerbate Alzheimer’s. Ruth and Howard become mesmerized by a Ronco rotisserie. Howard develops a routine of taking a handful of pills every night, “Hello, water…Goodbye, vitamin”. One could look at their preoccupation with food as a means of maintaining a sense of normalcy. Talk about the theme of food in Goodbye, Vitamin.
9. Theo and Ruth convince Howard that he is still teaching despite being placed on administrative leave. All is going well until they are found out, causing Howard to feel humiliated and betrayed. Do you feel their dishonesty was justified?
10. Goodbye, Vitamin explores the nature of human connection: husbands, wives, daughters, sons, friends, coworkers, lost loves, new loves, and passing strangers. Of all the relationships, which ones stood out the most for you?
11. “It’s a terminal disease, all the literature keeps saying. But isn’t everything terminal? is what I say to nobody, out loud”. How do you think Goodbye, Vitamin handles mortality?
12. Before reading Goodbye, Vitamin, what did you know about Alzheimer’s disease? Did this book change your preconceptions about those living with the disease and the effects on their loved ones?
13. Has anyone in your life been a victim of Alzheimer’s? If so, is the author’s account of it in Goodbye, Vitamin realistic?
14. The stigma associated with Alzheimer’s disease has a significant negative impact on the lives of both Alzheimer’s sufferers and their caregivers. Do you think Goodbye, Vitamin dispels some of the stigma associated with Alzheimer’s, other diseases, and even mental illness?
15. Many reviewers comment on the book’s humor. How does Khong manage to take a desperately grim subject and turn it into something less grim? What is Khong’s technique as a writer?