Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Leaving Tinkertown: Book Review

Published August 15, 2013.
Even very focused memoirs end up tackling a variety of topics. This is true of Tanya Ward Goodman's 2013 memoir, Leaving Tinkertown.

I chose to read it because it fits in with a category of books that I have labeled "dementia memoirs."  I value reading about the challenges and opportunities of hanging onto a relationship affected by Alzheimer's or another form of dementia.

Goodman focuses her memoir around the six years that her father, Ross Ward, lived with early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

Her account discusses the symptoms, diagnosis, and progression through the major stages of the disease.  It serves as a valuable road map for caregivers.

Even though there are some similarities from one dementia memoir to another, each account shows how the journey is unique to each person and their loved ones.

In the pages of her memoir, Goodman introduces us to her nonconformist father who is driven to create. He has spent decades drawing, painting and sculpting.  He spent some time on the road, painting for carnivals.  However, his major work took form as a miniature town dubbed "Tinkertown."  Ward carved the inhabitants and set up a roadside museum that is still in operation in New Mexico, just north of Albuquerque.

I received a copy of Leaving Tinkertown from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.
While still in midlife (his late 50s), Ross's memory changes, and he adopts new, outlandish behavior. Nevertheless, he continued to love his wife, children and his dog--Carla, Tanya, Jason and Radar, respectively.  He had no reservations about speaking his mind--putting his own creative spin on how he cussed people out when they stood between him and the open road or a bottle of beer.

His family soon discovers that another family member also has dementia--Ross's mother Rose. She's not quite as energetic as her son, so her journey through the disease isn't quite as dramatic. Nevertheless, everyone has to adjust to Grandma Rose's change in cognition and behavior as well.

What I admired the most was seeing how persistent Ross was in his drive to create.  During his last few years, he continued to add sculptures to Tinkertown, He even made his own body a canvas for self-expression.  He also preserved some self-awareness of his disease for a pretty long time.  He responded with a mix of sadness, anger, bemusement and even acceptance.  

But as with any person with dementia, the journey doesn't just involve a single individual.  All loved ones are affected. As the disease progresses, each relationship has to be renegotiated according to new levels of cognition and new sets of behaviors.  His wife, Carla (whom Ross calls "La"), must monitor his drinking, take away his keys and keep him from wondering down country roads. His son, Jason, has to find away to connect with his father after years of being detached.

And Ross's daughter, Tanya, has to decide how to balance her needs for independence from her father and a love for her boyfriend with the need to preserve her relationship with her beloved father and support him by offering help as a caregiver.

Even though Tanya and her father Ross are able to maintain many of the elements of their previous relationship, the disease requires them both to make adjustments to their new reality.

There is a clear mixture of love and pain in the pages of this memoir.  Dementia has a way of crystallizing family issues of trust, loyalty, love, commitment, communication, affection, memory and care. Consequently, readers of all family backgrounds will be able to see elements of their own family within the dynamics of the Ward clan.

As Goodman writes, you can see her inheriting her father's gift of creativity.  Instead of working with paint, wood, bottles or rocks, Goodman collects memories and fashions them into a monument dedicated to her father's life--and to their life together on the road and in Tinkertown.

Whether or not dementia affects someone in your family, Goodman reminds us that life brings change. But we can respond with a mix of constancy and flexibility so that relationships endure.

Here is the book trailer, which includes a number of photos of Ross--with various loved ones--throughout his lifespan. 


Books about Dementia
Movies Depicting Alzheimer's Disease


  1. Replies
    1. We should take a road trip to New Mexico some day, dear--now that you've read a bit about one of the roadside attractions there!

  2. Thanks for this. We have a loved one who is just now entering this place, and it's helpful to have insight into how the experience is for her.

  3. Karen, I really enjoyed reading this review. As you know, my late MIL lived about 10 years with early-onset dementia, and I knew her in the final 2 years of her life. I feel very inspired to pick this book up because I already feel a connection to this family from the review and the book trailer. Mr. Ward sounds like a fascinating man in his own right, and the story of his family's changing relationships with him is very compelling.

    1. It's been out for a year, now. I try to read as many dementia memoirs as I can find, but this one just caught my attention. It was very interesting to read for that reason and many more. Hugs to you and your family as you remember your MIL with the upcoming holiday season on its way. I am sure she is a guardian angel to your children. : )

  4. What a powerful book. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thanks for stopping by the blog. Yes, I think Goodman did a lot of great emotional work as well as some great intellectual work while composing her book. Good stuff.

  5. Memoirs are a favorite genre of mine. I've added this to my reading list. It sounds fascinating, enlightening, powerful. And important. Thank you for sharing!

    (PS: I think it's so great that most books now have a trailer. Love that!)

  6. what a wonderful review on such a heartbreaking subject..

  7. Karen, Thanks so much for your kind and insightful review. Feel quite blessed to be part of what I feel is a very important conversation about aging, Alzheimer's and caregiving.

  8. I was recently in New Mexico, I wish I had read your review prior to going. I would have loved to have seen Tinkertown!

  9. This sounds like an interesting read. Thanks much for the thoughtful review.

  10. Thanks for sharing this, I think it's helpful to read stories that can help us get a grip on illnesses like this!

  11. I really enjoyed this review and the trailer. You are so right, the topic may be the same but everyone does have their own story!
    This is one of the saddest diseases.
    My Mother's friend was just diagnosed.

  12. As you know I'm wanting to work with the aged when I graduate, especially with dementia issues, impacts and interventions. I've added this to my Christmas reading list!