one hundred and sixty-six

Read IN BED: Goodbye Vitamin

Words by Hannah-Rose Yee

“The light coming through the apartment windows would be pretty, except all it does is illuminate the dust on the floor. I never fully committed to unpacking. I feel not even the slightest attachment to this apartment.”

– Rachel Khong, Goodbye, Vitamin

Rachel Khong is, or rather was, the editor of the sadly-closed food magazine Lucky Peach and this is her first novel. It is fantastically easy to read – the kind of thing you can flick through on a Sunday morning and find yourself finishing in the afternoon, even including breaking for cups of coffee and mid-afternoon pastries. Told in easily-digestible, vignette-style snippets, it’s the tale of 30-year-old Ruth, whose boyfriend has left her unceremoniously, whose job is uninspiring and whose father has Alzheimer’s. Ruth decides to move home – from San Francisco to Los Angeles – to help her mother with his care.

Rachel Khong is, or rather was, the editor of the sadly-closed food magazine Lucky Peach and this is her first novel. It is fantastically easy to read – the kind of thing you can flick through on a Sunday morning and find yourself finishing in the afternoon, even including breaking for cups of coffee and mid-afternoon pastries.

This book is so beautiful and sad, two things that often go hand-in-hand. It is, on the one hand, about aging parents and alcoholism, and the tragi-comedy of the end of life. I remember, when my grandfather was particularly sick and dying, though we didn’t realise it at the time, laughing the hardest at some impression of a sports commentator with a cold. I remembering being doubled up with laughter in these little plastic chairs, drinking water from little plastic cups. You forget how funny these things are, until they’re not.

Goodbye, Vitamin is the same. My favourite parts of the book were not the conversations between Ruth’s parents but between Ruth and her brother Linus, who refuses to help with their father’s care. Linus has never forgiven his father for youthful indiscretions. (No spoilers). For me, as an elder sister with stubborn, silly brothers, the relationship between Ruth and Linus was so poignant. The shared language of time and intimacy.

It’s also, unsurprisingly considering Khong’s role at Lucky Peach, fantastic about food and drink. You know how Joan Didion books have these incredible little kernels of fashion detail, noticed because Didion was a former caption writer at Vogue? Well, this is the same, except with food. The last meal that Ruth cooks for her boyfriend is caramelised onion and potato, mashed together. In the early hours of new year’s day Ruth and her friend Bonnie eat peanuts out of a bowl with a spoon and toast a new year and a “new leaf”. (“Sometimes I like a hangover because it’s something to do,” Ruth says the next morning). Burgers from the drive through with BYO cheese slices because cheese costs 90 cents extra. Getting off a plane and going straight to the deli because sandwiches are the only thing you want to eat after a plane ride.

I cried at the end of this book. Ruth is such a familiar, empathetic character. She’s me and all my friends. Her mum and dad are my parents, and all my uncles and aunts. Linus is my brothers. In Anna Karenina, the book that Ruth’s mum reads at her book club, Tolstoy writes that every happy family is alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. But what about just plain old, ordinary, happy unhappy families? Turns out that they are all familiar, too.