Book Review: Untethered: A Caregiver's Tale by Phyllis Peters
I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
I asked my dad once if he had long-term care insurance. He dumped a sponge of tofu into the blender for his morning smoothie and said, “Yes. A gun.” I stomped off to tell my mom.
It’s a fact of life – if you’re not aging, you’re dead. Life’s bell curve may peak at different times for different folks, but peak it does. And, after the peak is the slide, the slide back into diapers and soft foods. Even my kick-ass grandma ceased weeding her garden when she hit 93 years of age, stating that standing back up tortured her knees.
In the novel Untethered, author Phyllis Peters carves a progressively steepening downward slope of Tom Conklin’s parents’ mental abilities. Tom’s parents live in the same town as Tom and his wife Mel. Tom’s dad, Martin, is 85 years old and used to being in charge. Lil, Tom’s mom, is also an independent octogenarian who managed her home’s bills, taxes, and chores with precision for many years. Martin and Lil’s aging challenges begin slowly, like the etching of the Grand Canyon by a drop of water. The drop of water subtly becomes a raging river of concerns after several humorous and, at times scary, actions put Martin, Lil, and others in danger. Tom calls in his sister Deb for reinforcement to help manage their parents’ inability to safely take care of themselves. Together Deb and Tom meander the truths of becoming caregivers for their parents, the biggest struggle being how to do so while keeping their parents’ dignity intact.
The plot of Untethered stirs together the comedy and the starkness of aging. Tom and Deb’s struggle to manage their careers, marriages, and family lives amidst figuring out how to assist their parents creates an immediate sympathy with both characters. Thrown into the story are two minor subplots that lack tie-in with the main plot, but could be interesting stories on their own. The first is Tom’s aversion to nature. He’s cynical about organic farming, natural childbirth, and ancient medical remedies. That’s all fine, but there’s no loop back to the aging issues. The second subplot involves the mythical history of Tom and Mel’s vacation home. The character, Ol’ Greg, a native of the lands near the vacation home, colors the story with his eccentricities and search for treasure, but again, this subplot fails to lace into the story on aging. A subplot serves the plot, enriching the theme. If it doesn’t, it leaves a reader asking ‘who cares?’.
Despite my curiosity about the subplots’ objectives, Untethered has stuck with me. Like Tom and Deb, I’m in the middle years, raising children and watching my beloved parents age. Untethered spoke to the fears and frustrations of realizing the mortality of my parents. I talked so much about the realities of caring for aging parents shown in Untethered that my husband, who rarely reads fiction, asked to read my copy. Peters balanced Tom’s frustrations with ample laughs and contemplation, helping me realize that my teenage retort to my dad’s callous end-of-life plan wasn’t simply annoyance, but like Tom’s reactions, a retort that was tinged with sadness; sadness that the parents who held the back of my seat as I learned to ride a bike would one day not be there to catch me when I fell.
Two decades of caregiving inspired Peters writing of Untethered. An interview with Peters is available below.