Book of the week: In Love by Amy Bloom

A ‘sharply observed, often witty, eminently moving memoir’

Amy Bloom
Amy Bloom at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2014
(Image credit: Colin McPherson/Corbis via Getty Images)

When Amy Bloom’s husband Brian Ameche, who knew her taste for simplicity, bought her a very expensive sweatshirt with a fancy tulle trim, “she might have guessed something was amiss”, said Salley Vickers in The Guardian. At the time, the novelist dismissed the gift as a harmless oddity. Looking back on it, she was “surprised that I didn’t look at that sweatshirt and think, ‘I see that you have Alzheimer’s’”.

In this “sharply observed, often witty, eminently moving memoir”, Bloom “charts the gradual progression of the illness from her slow recognition that her husband was not himself, to an eventual diagnosis”, when he was in his mid-60s. But what happened next is the book’s true subject. Within a week of being diagnosed, Ameche had decided that the “long goodbye” of Alzheimer’s was not for him. He resolved to end his life while most of his faculties were still intact, and Bloom had to help him do it.

The disease had already diminished her husband to the point where “orchestrating his exit” was beyond him, said Hephzibah Anderson in The Observer. And so it fell to Bloom to make the arrangements. A period of “eerie internet trawling” followed, with the couple considering various creative solutions involving illegal drugs, guns, even “a futuristic suicide pod”. Eventually, the Swiss organisation Dignitas emerged as the only “fully legal, pain-free option” – though the bureaucratic obstacles were still considerable.

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In January 2020, the couple flew business class to Zurich from their home in Connecticut, and checked into a room described by Bloom as “hotel-pleasant”. After being repeatedly asked by doctors if he wanted to go through with the procedure, Ameche took a fatal dose of sodium pentobarbital. Before doing so he asked his wife, shatteringly: “What time’s your plane?”

While one half of In Love is the story of the assisted suicide, the other tells the story of their relationship, said Sarah Ditum in The Times. Theirs was a blissfully happy “midlife love match”. Pre-Alzheimer’s, Ameche was “intelligent, handsome, well-groomed” and self-deprecating. “You should be with a guy who doesn’t mind that you’re smarter than he is,” he said to Bloom when they got together. It all adds great force to her portrait of his demise, which is unsentimental, immaculately written, and “can make you laugh and break your heart in the same beat”. Here, for once, is an account of tragedy that doesn’t induce the guilty thought: “I wish this terrible thing had happened to a better writer.”

Granta 240pp £16.99; The Week Bookshop £13.99

In Love book cover

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