It’s easy to praise Fredrik Backman’s novella, And Every Morning The Way Home Gets Longer And Longer. I could tell you about the easy, conversational, effortless style, smooth dialogue, and all the tiny details that make this short story feel richer than most novels. I could also tell you about the clever way time and perspective shifts to best capture the feelings of Grandpa, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, as well as his son and grandson, who do their best to be there for someone who barely knows who they are, let alone where he is. Now, Alzheimer’s is a tragedy – I know that’s an incredible understatement, but I don’t know of any words that could adequately capture what it does to a family and I won’t presume to insult anyone who has been affected, directly, or indirectly, by the disease by discussing the disease itself further. But it’s important to note that, while including a character with Alzheimer’s is almost guaranteed to provoke emotion, Backman doesn’t go for obvious sentimental effects. I don’t believe he even ever uses the word Alzheimer’s once, because his novella is about something much more than a disease – it’s about remembering, forgetting, and, ultimately, the relationship between a grandpa and his grandson. And trust me, there’s nothing better than that.
Backman’s story works on two distinct levels. First, it works as what I would call a “specific story.” That is, he does a wonderful job making the personalities of his characters distinct and their relationships believable to the point where it would be easy to believe every character and event was stolen directly from real life. But second, it also works as what I would call a “representative story.” This kind of story is where the characters or events can easily symbolize things we all go through. To take an obvious example, the plot of Moby-Dick is known to most people, despite the fact that only a fraction of those people have actually read through the entire book. But you don’t have to read every page to understand the battle between the obsessive Ahab and his quest for the White Whale and apply this elemental struggle to any one person’s life, or even humanity as a whole. The best stories combine elements of both these types, with characters that are simultaneously unique yet able to be adapted to people from different times and backgrounds. Grandpa is a wonderfully drawn character who can be enjoyed as the specific Grandpa in Backman’s novella or as a representative of that person in our lives we all have, or should have – someone who shapes us into who we are and embodies who we aspire to be.
Like I said at the outset, there is an enormous amount to praise about Backman’s And Every Morning The Way Home Gets Longer And Longer. But I want to stress that what hit me hardest about his story was how much it made me reflect on someone from my own life. And I also want to stress that this is not a sad story. Despite its subject matter, this is a surprisingly uplifting book. It will make you cherish your best memories all the more because, while forgetting is at the heart of this book’s tragedy, Backman reminds us that our memories will never die if we share them with the people we love.
And, in the end, isn’t that what telling stories is all about?
So go read it. Now.