Kristen Lem


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BOOK REVIEW: Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Kong

Goodbye Vitamin Rachel Khong Kristen Lem Writes Review.png


Did I find this book, or did it find me?  No, I found this book via Pen Center USA, but I feel like it found me.  Because of all the feels.  Khong drips her story to us through funny, sparse dialogue and prose with breaks for letters from her father and flashbacks of her ex-fiancée.  Let me talk first about her attention to craft, which is bow-down brilliant.

Our order is so obvious to us, we almost forget to tell our waitress.
— Rachel Khong - Goodbye, Vitamin

The main character is Ruth and we are following her through transitioning adulthood, as she deals with the realities of an ex-alcoholic father who is slowly (yet too rapidly) losing his mind to Alzheimer’s.  Ruth uncovers short letters written to her by her father.  They are touching and introduce a delighted and loving side to him, juxtaposed by his affair and angry outbursts.  It is an incredibly humanizing technique used by Khong, and that’s the word that comes to mind when I think about this book: HUMAN.

She shows sides to her characters with such compassion and realness – a constant reminder that we all have our reasons.  We are all have our own path.  One that we should treat with kindness and forgiveness, difficult as it may be.  Especially when it is your family.

We’ve done it before, obviously, but now we’re unsure how to inhabit this house together – Dad, Linus, and me.
— Rachel Khong - Goodbye, Vitamin

Khong uses a similar technique to narrate what happened between her and her ex-fiancée, Joel.  As per usual I was initially engrossed in this drama, but it turns out not to be the main story line and is used as a way to talk about where Ruth is at mentally and emotionally.  I loved how creatively Khong peppered in moments past and present between the two of them.  Blissful, warm, and painful she reminds us that breakups hurt most because of a simple truth: the relationship was good until it wasn’t.

There is a change in the book where the author begins many of her sentences/phrases with “Today …” This comes after her dad’s doctor, Dr. Lung, says that the best thing the family can do is: “be present.” Ruth is confused at first thinking he means, “present in the moment,” but finds he means simply “to be there.”  Khong reveals to us not so explicitly but so brilliantly (geez, can I say “brilliant” enough?) that these are one in the same.  It is wonderfully warming to the soul that this is also how her father began many of his short letters to her.

Thoughts are springing to mind, and I am dropping them all, irresponsibly, like dice.
— Rachel Khong - Goodbye, Vitamin

I could go on and on about this brave first book.  However, I’m going to stop because I am embarrassed as I write this review, as it feels so horribly flat in comparison to the humorous, tender, and moving ride Khong takes us through adulthood.  Goodbye, Vitamin is a must-read for anyone, especially those in their 30s perhaps experiencing their parent(s) as fallible humans for the first time.

Los Angelenos, follow Pen Center USA for honestly the best book recommendations and regular gatherings at The Edison for *hello* literary themed cocktails.