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Tangles: A story about Alzheimer's, my mother, and me [Paperback]

Sarah Leavitt
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
List Price: CDN$ 23.95
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Book Description

Sept. 1 2010

What do you do when your outspoken, passionate, and quick-witted mother starts fading into a forgetful, fearful woman? In this powerful graphic memoir, Sarah Leavitt reveals how Alzheimer’s disease transformed her mother Midge—and her family—forever.

In spare black and white drawings and clear, candid prose, Sarah shares her family’s journey through a harrowing range of emotions—shock, denial, hope, anger, frustration—all the while learning to cope, and managing to find moments of happiness. Midge, a Harvard-educated intellectual, struggles to comprehend the simplest words; Sarah’s father Rob slowly adapts to his new role as full-time caretaker, but still finds time for word-play and poetry with his wife; Sarah and her sister Hannah argue, laugh, and grieve together as they join forces to help Midge get to sleep, rage about family friends who have disappeared, or collapse in tears at the end of a heartbreaking day.

Tangles provides a window on the complexity of Alzheimer’s disease, and ultimately opens a knot of moments, memories, and dreams to reveal a bond between a mother and a daughter that will never come apart.


Frequently Bought Together

Tangles: A story about Alzheimer's, my mother, and me + I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
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Product Description

Review

“Sarah Leavitt uses the medium of comics to tell her story with more economy and power than either words or pictures could muster by themselves. She brings a good eye for the telling detail—the small observations that reveal larger truths—to her memoir of a family in crisis. Tangles is the work of a perceptive, creative, and honest storyteller.”—Brian Fies

About the Author

Sarah Leavitt writes both prose and comics. Her writing has appeared in Geist, The Globe and Mail, Vancouver Review, The Georgia Straight, and Xtra West. Leavitt has written short documentaries for Definitely Not the Opera on CBC Radio, and her non-fiction has appeared in a number of anthologies, including Nobody’s Mother (Heritage 2006) and Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose about Alzheimer’s Disease (Kent State University Press 2009). She has an MFA in Creative Writing from UBC. Tangles is her first book.


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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A harrowing series of vignettes Nov. 14 2011
Format:Paperback
A very harrowing series of vignettes in the progress of a terrible disease. The other book I read about Alzheimer's, Still Alice by Lisa Genova, doesn't take us all the way to the end and the tragic wasting away and death of a human being, so that part of this book was really rough. Tangles is told from the point of view of a family member left behind, the afflicted's daughter. Still Alice is told in first person format from the afflicted's point of view and is a very different experience, albeit still a terrifying one.

The "graphic" component of this story was mildly effective, I thought. The art style doesn't blow me away, but Leavitt has a talent for expressing ideas and emotions in images that did augment the story. Her facility with cartoony faces and bodies is limited--I think she is a writer first and illustrator a somewhat distant second. It is still a work that I can't imagine as narrative only, so for that reason I consider it a successful graphic non-fiction work.

This is not an easy read or even much of a coherent narrative. It is a series of illustrated events, random notes and memories and a loving portrait of the author's mother, all of which tells a real story with moments of humour and lots of sadness. Bring Kleenex.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Tangled, but with spots of brightness" March 6 2012
Format:Paperback
Tangles is equal parts celebration and lament, as much an anatomy of Alzheimer's as it is an intensely moving matremoir. Reading Tangles had me reliving many of the details of my mom's last years, and remembering the frustrations, the moments of fierce anger, the depressions, the sparks of humour, the exhaustion, and the closeness and caring which her slow regression and death brought to our family.

Alzheimer's is a disease of diminishment and indignity, and part of Sarah Leavitt's triumph is that she doesn't shy away from showing the darker parts of the process. Nor does she hide the dark snakes of depression, fear, and pettiness which attack her and other family members. She also shows how the disease often makes small children of patient and caregivers, and the immediacy and cartoon quality of her graphic narrative medium work wonderfully to reach the child in us all. Her telling has a vulnerability and a visceral impact which written text alone could not achieve.

As a graphic memoir, and one in which recognition and acceptance of the author's lesbian identity play a part, Leavitts book will inevitably be compared to Alison Bechdel's Fun Home. Midge Leavitt, though, was much more nurturing, much less conflicted than Bruce Bechdel; and consequently Tangles is much less dark than Fun Home. Both books pay tribute, but where Bechdel remembers her father to map herself Leavitt remembers her mother to grow and nurture. Unsurprisingly, both books can be seen as mirroring the respective parent described. Whereas the art and language of Fun Home is carefully crafted and highly polished, Tangles is rougher and looser in style, a garden, "tangled, but with spots of brightness.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Very good, but not great June 18 2014
Format:Paperback
I found this impossible to put down, and I did tear up a few times. The pictures help explain the words. BUT, unlike with other graphic memoirs they don't really add a huge amount. You could just read the words and get pretty much the same thing out of the book as you do with the drawings. I am not a huge consumer of graphic memoirs but the other memorable one I read was Fun Home and it blew me away- the pictures in that case were about a third to a half of the message. I'd read a page, and then scour the drawings for every detail, sometimes even laughing or feeling sad purely because of something the drawings had revealed. With Tangles I was done with the pictures as soon as I'd finished reading the words, with a couple minor exceptions. There's not any additional information in the art. The art is simple and straightforward.
I think the art enhances the story by making the reader pause and reflect in a way they wouldn't if it was text-only. The drawings help express mood. It's definitely better WITH the drawings, and they're good drawings.
I guess my point is that I can't help feeling there was the potential for the art to add a lot more to the story than it did, which is why I am giving only three stars.
I haven't been touched by dementia of any kind so I can't speak about what this book could offer a family just discovering their own beloved relative has Alzheimer's. I imagine it might be helpful but I really don't know. Could I say it opened my mind? Meh... I guess not. My mind didn't really need to be opened on this subject. I always thought such illnesses were the utmost in tragedy, and my heart went out to the real person behind the crumbling ruins, and the scared childlike person they'd become, and their suffering relatives and friends, losing them slowly a bit at a time.
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting way to present the story July 15 2011
By J. Obee
Format:Paperback
Putting the story in cartoon form was definitely an interesting way to present the story. But I didn't like that method. I found it difficult to read.

And I'm really not clear as to how the reporting of the author's sexual activities advances the understanding of how the Alzheimer's Disease in her mother progressed.

The story of the disease's progression was quite fascinating.

But on the whole, I was disappointed.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Tangled, but with spots of brightness." March 6 2012
By Andre Gerard - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Tangles is equal parts celebration and lament, as much an anatomy of Alzheimer's as it is an intensely moving matremoir. Reading Tangles had me reliving many of the details of my mom's last years, and remembering the frustrations, the moments of fierce anger, the depressions, the sparks of humour, the exhaustion, and the closeness and caring which her slow regression and death brought to our family.

Alzheimer's is a disease of diminishment and indignity, and part of Sarah Leavitt's triumph is that she doesn't shy away from showing the darker parts of the process. Nor does she hide the dark snakes of depression, fear, and pettiness which attack her and other family members. She also shows how the disease often makes small children of patient and caregivers, and the immediacy and cartoon quality of her graphic narrative medium work wonderfully to reach the child in us all. Her telling has a vulnerability and a visceral impact which written text alone could not achieve.

As a graphic memoir, and one in which recognition and acceptance of the author's lesbian identity play a part, Leavitt's book will inevitably be compared to Alison Bechdel's Fun Home. Midge Leavitt, though, was much more nurturing, much less conflicted than Bruce Bechdel; and consequently Tangles is much less dark than Fun Home. Both books pay tribute, but where Bechdel remembers her father to map herself Leavitt remembers her mother to grow and nurture. Unsurprisingly, both books can be seen as mirroring the respective parent described. Whereas the art and language of Fun Home is carefully crafted and highly polished, Tangles is rougher and looser in style, a garden, "tangled, but with spots of brightness."

Tangles also bears comparison to important Alzheimer's books such as John Bayley's Elegy for Iris, Lisa Genova's Still Alice, and Michael Ignatieff's Scar Tissue. Like these books, it is a good story well told. Like these books, it belongs in every library, not just in those of Alzheimer's afflicted families.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, Must Read April 21 2012
By Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I read a lot of graphic memoirs (any I can find, actually) and purely text-based memoirs, and I found Tangles to be one of the most moving and engaging I have read.

Tnagles is one woman's story about the experience of losing (and finding, in some ways) her mother to Alzheimer's, and so I suspect anyone touched by the disease would find this compelling and oddly consoling. However, I did not read this because I am personally suffering the loss of a family member to Alzheimer's and yet reading Tangles felt therapeutic in some way I find hard to explain.

Because the other reviewer mentioned it and it is an obvious point of comparison, I would place Tangles up there with Bechdel's Fun Home. They are very different, though, in terms of the focus of the narrative, the style of delivery, and the shape of the text itself (physically and intellectually). Bechdel's covers a much wider span of time in a more densely collected series of panels.

Tangles, on the other hand, covers just a 6-year slice of life from the onset of her mother's disease through her death. Her text is less dense and connected. In fact, Leavitt punctuates the chapters of her text with tiny bits of unconnected dialogue, things her mother said or wrote in her own hand--and this is so perfect for the story she has to tell. Leavitt's voice, illustrations, and story are so real and honest, I wouldn't change a thing.

I would strongly encourage anyone considering buying this for any reason to do so.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love Copes With Trajedy. July 23 2012
By rlr - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
How this book could be anything less than a 5 star, I'll never comprehend. (To rate it less because it is not in some published form is beyond idiotic.) This book is one of the best I've ever read. If you want to know what love really is, read this book. It is about a loving family coping with Alzheimer's. Unless you have no heart, you will love the people and shed tears with them. You will become informed not clinically but experiencially about Alzheimer's. You will be a better person for sharing their lives. If you doubt the human race, some measure of belief will be restored. Deeply moving. Informative. The medium could not be more appropriate. Text and drawings combine seamlessly to convey message.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book tells how it really is Feb. 26 2014
By Daniel Sherman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is how it really feels to take care of your mom who has Alzheimer's. ( I did this also, though my mom was much older than Midge Leavitt ). It includes the painful parts (their early hurt and fear, the irreversible progress of the disease), the funny parts (the humorous way they express themselves, the funny things they think to do), and the sweet moments (there are still moments when you see their core-- the one you love -- coming through). I am impressed how well documented it all is -- the telling details are well and lovingly recorded. When you are in the situation it is hard to remember what one phase was like when you are already into the next one. While I was reading it, I cried. It made me remember my mother, and I miss her, Alzheimerish or not. I really enjoyed Sarah's description of her family life -- it seems like a wonderful family to to have grown up in. Her drawings are simplified and expressive, and they complemented her storytelling very well -- I found the combination easy to understand and deeply affecting.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Coming of Age Book Sept. 10 2013
By alisongs - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Even if you're put off by the topic of Alzheimer's, you should read this book. It's one of the most honest mother-daughter books I've every read. And it's such a great use of the graphic novel format. Think Persepolis set in Canada. Yes, it's about losing her mom to Alzheimer's, but really, it's a love story between two strong-willed, smart and funny women. Do yourself a favor and read the hardcopy - the beautiful illustrations really deserve to be seen as the work of art they are.
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