Book Review

October 12, 2011

The Sickle’s Compass: A Novel of Love, War and Alzheimer’s Disease
by Stephen Woodfin

In his book, The Sickle’s Compass:  A Novel of Love, War and Alzheimer’s Disease, Stephen Woodfin explores the world of Woody, a World War II veteran with Alzheimer’s disease, and his family.  Woody is prone to that most dangerous issue associated with Alzheimer’s disease —  wandering — and wander he does.  His adventures take him from Texas to Kentucky to the Florida panhandle’s Gulf Coast, and points in between.  Along with these adventures come the dangers you would expect and many you would not.  Woodfin himself obviously has an excellent working knowledge of the areas about which he writes, most of which I also know well.  As a lifelong Alabamian, I can say that his characterizations of Southerners are humorous and spot on.  If you’re from the South, you KNOW people like this.  If you’re not, you get a great window on some salty Southerners.  Either way, these folks will make your smile.  On the surface the book is a great read, a real page-turner.  I would recommend it on that alone, as I enjoy a good read as much as anyone else.

However, the book is not just a good “surface” read.  Stephen Woodfin’s mother had Alzheimer’s disease, so he is heart-breakingly familiar with the difficulties caregivers face.  He weaves these with great expertise into the plotline.  Perhaps more importantly, Woodfin uses his background as an attorney to reveal the inadequacies of our legal system in dealing with people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.  When a person with Alzheimer’s commits a crime, is he responsible?  “Of course not” sounds like the obvious answer, but there are stories in the news all the time of people with Alzheimer’s disease assaulting someone and being arrested, stealing something and being arrested, etc.  The legal system does not have the structure to deal with these ever-more-common situations.  These very real issues are part of the story Woodfin writes with such dexterity as Woody and his family travel throughout the South.

The very end of the book is bittersweet, as it must be given Woody’s Alzheimer’s disease.  The climax of the action is a little implausible, but then, it is a work of fiction and a little implausibility never hurt anyone.  I thoroughly enjoyed The Sickle’s Compass and highly recommend it.


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