Poet and essayist Floyd Skloot gives us his third memoir; each of the three concerns a somewhat different facet of his attempt to recover from and live with mental and physical damage resulting from a viral illness that struck him in 1988. This book, written approximately 15 years after the initial insult, "is a memoir of the reassembled life" (ix). Life for Skloot is different than before, but a kind of order--Skloot calls it "harmony"--has been constructed out of memory loss, mental disorder and incoherence: "I have learned to savor the fragments themselves, and to live in the moment" (xi). A World of Light is perhaps more a collection of essays than a memoir.

Most of part one and some sections of parts two (Ch. 5, "1957") and three (Ch. 15, "Taking Stock") concern Skloot's interaction with his aged mother as she slides further and further into dementia. Anyone who wants an idea of what it is like to interact with a person who has Alzheimer's disease should read these sections. Skloot masterfully reproduces the often bizarre conversations that occur--the sometimes maddening repetition of comments during attempts at conversation.

Skloot's mother admires his wife, Beverly, and repeatedly instructs them to marry each other, no matter how often they assure her they are already married. She forgets their previous visits to her in the nursing home, although they visit regularly, and becomes anxious when they leave, even though she isn't certain who they are. Skloot writes about how receptive his mother is to music, which delights her, and how she sings snatches of old songs triggered by the words of any offhand comment--phenomena that have been noted in some other descriptions of Alzheimer's patients.

The essays in part two look back on Skloot's childhood, his family's background, and on his development as a writer. Part three centers on his current life with his wife, Beverly, whose home in rural Oregon provides a refuge for them both (although they are now in the market for different surroundings).


Skloot writes with polish--he has an "elegant style," as Diane Ackerman's jacket cover testimonial asserts-and with humor, and insight. It is remarkable that he is able to write so well in spite of difficulty concentrating and self-reported problems in articulating thought. (He notes that it took eight years for him to write his previous memoir, In the Shadow of Memory, annotated in this database).

Among the most interesting essays from a medical humanities perspective are those concerning the author and his mother; Skloot skillfully interweaves his mental confusion with his mother's dementia. Complicating the interaction between the two is the history of their relationship, which was painful for Skloot, since his mother was unpredictably volatile and abusive to him (and others) when he was growing up. In her dementia, his mother is no longer volatile, but Skloot needs to remind himself that these are different times and his coping strategies need to be different.

To a certain extent, his own memory loss and mental confusion provide him with an understanding of his mother's dementia--not only intellectually, but emotionally. At the same time, his mother's condition precludes the ability to obtain information that would help the author repair his own damaged autobiography (Skloot's father died many years ago.)

Also of special interest are the chapters that concern Skloot's intellectual development and evolution as a writer, and how these were changed by his illness (Ch. 8, "A Pick to the Heart"; Ch. 9, "The Simple Wisdom"). Writing after the virus struck, Skloot became "obsessed" with reconstructing his past and writing about his illness and its aftermath (78). Writing was a mechanism for piecing memory fragments together, with the help of other triggers such as songs, films, photographs, and conversations with old friends and relatives. Interestingly, Skloot notes that prior to his illness he had not written essays, but early in his limited recovery, he could write "fragments" that began to cohere into essays.

Skloot also notes how his poetry has been changed by his changed mental state: "The poems are less formal, less cohesive, because my world and my mind are less cohesive. They are more like acts of discovery than acts of revelation, since I seldom know where my poems are going. It is a change I never could have imagined for myself before. . . " (123). By the end of the book, having undergone a mysterious remission of symptoms following a prolonged bout with adult chickenpox, and a subsequent relapse, Skloot concludes that he is ready to move on in his writing, that he will no longer be "hostage" to his illness, but will open himself up to and write about "the world outside" (186).


Univ. of Nebraska Press

Place Published

Lincoln & London



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