Book Review: Take Daily as Needed (Kathryn Trueblood)
Reviewed by Maura Madden
Katherine Trueblood's Take Daily as Needed is a story about feminism, aging, marriage and divorce, parenting, and chronic illness. Ultimately it is a story about relationships and how they both sustain us and wear us down. This novel is written as consecutive short stories that build upon one another. The stories are all narrated in the first person by Maeve, the protagonist, and present as a memoir.
Maeve is a middle aged woman with Crohn's disease, though in the opening story there is no mention of the Crohns'. Instead the story focuses upon the peanut allergy of Maeve's young daughter, Noelle. Through this story we are introduced to Maeve and her family, gaining a feel for who they are and how they interact. We learn about the intensity of Norman, Maeve's young son through a conversation about the Holocaust. We also see the tension within her marriage to her husband, Guy. This opening sets the stage for the following stories throughout which Maeve navigates multiple changing familial relationships.
Maeve's role as part of the sandwich generations is an important subject within the novel. Maeve has many challenges dealing with her children. In addition to Noelle's nut allergy and fearfulness, she faces ongoing behavioral issues with Norman. There are also a number of stories that focus upon Maeve's parents. Maeve is helping care for her parents during old age and illness and then must deal with their deaths. During these stories the care of her parents is so consuming that it is easy to forget that she also has children at home relying upon her. The exploration of these relationships gives the reader insight into Maeve's history, personality, and values. We see how Maeve devotes herself to her family though it is exhausting, particularly with her chronic illness.
Feminism is a prominent theme in "Take Daily as Needed."Maeve came of age in the 1970s and is a product of an environment that encouraged independence, defiance, and sexuality. As an adult, however, she lives in a society in which gender roles are far from equal. When Noelle can no longer attend preschool because of her allergy, it is Maeve who must quit her job to stay home.
The dissolution of Maeve and Guy's marriage appears to be rooted in their differing views of gender roles. Maeve describes the "gulf between what I once thought was possible…and what took hold increasingly"as "creeping paternalism."She believes that Guy talks like a feminist while he is, in reality, "Take Daily as Needed"a scratch-and-sniff sexist; it's just a little bit beneath the surface."The reader is seeing this all through Maeve's eyes. This bias is apparent in several scenes, such as when Maeve admits that Guy's "compassion and common sense as a parent had seen us through the worst."The dialogue of their arguments remind us that we are only privy to her interpretation of events.
Trueblood continues to addresses the theme of feminism throughout the novel, including in the chapter"Self-Defense."Maeve takes Noelle to a self-defense class after encountering some questionable looking men on a hike. In the context of the class, we meet a women who has presumably experienced sexual assault and we learn statistic regarding this crime. Maeve's inner reflections during the class wander to the topics of female bullying and mom-blame. Later, Maeve criticizes modern diet culture when telling of the weight loss resulting from her disease.
It is not until the third story of this novel that the reader learns Maeve has Crohn's disease. In this chapter, from which the novel gets its title, Maeve describes having a "vague autoimmune disease…incurable but manageable."Maeve was hospitalized for her illness and returns week and tired. In addition to the physical effects she struggles with the effect upon her self-identity. She tells Noelle "I wish you had known me when I was strong. I was a woman who could climb mountains."She sees herself as independent and as a care taker, but now she needs to look to her own children for assistance. She does not want them to worry but, conversely, also becomes resentful when they are dismissive or unhelpful. She insightfully comments that "the chronicity (of the disease) wears everyone out. That's the deal."
The final stories in the book focus upon Maeve's relationship with Walter. They have been together for four years and seemed to be in agreement that they were in no rush to get married. Then Maeve has a health scare and begins to "spur Walter toward marriage as a way of inoculating myself against further illness."This fear of being ill and alone becomes more apparent in the final chapter of the book, during which Maeve experiences a relapse that lands her in the hospital. Their relationship is going well and Maeve worries, "Will my illness now undo all this?"
Take Daily as Needed explores chronic illness and its effect upon both those who are ill and their loved ones. Trueblood engagingly describes many aspects of family life in a manner that is authentic, honest, and often uncomfortable. The characters and relationships are multifaceted and the reader is allowed to witness to the love, anger, frustration, change and resilience in a way that rings true to life.
Title: Take Daily as Needed