Sandy Snavely’s Ellie’s Window is an engaging book with a creative smörgåsbord of characters, themes, and perspectives.
It may be difficult to tell you why I say that without spoiling some of Snavely’s delicious surprises, but I’ll try. Ellie’s Window introduces us to Ellie Mae and her daughter Charlie. Charlie discovers Ellie Mae has Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease and their worlds are turned upside down—well, their visible worlds, the ones they consider reality. But they’re also living in several different, heavily veiled worlds. Snavely cleverly weaves links between these worlds.
A story about someone suffering the inexorable creeping loss of Alzheimer’s could be a very dark read. But Snavely’s skill as a writer keeps that from being so. She crafts scenes with humor, warmth, and joy amid the stress. She uses delightful turns of phrase that shine a lance of light or beauty into the dark places.
Early in the book a woman about to give birth to her first child is rambling about things she wants to do before going to the hospital. The rattled husband tries to be supportive while getting her quickly to the hospital in the dead of night. As they drive, she prattles on and suggests they go home until she feels more prepared. He thinks “Labor and logic will not be shaking hands any time soon.” When they arrive, he see the row trees lining the hospital driveway as having “their branches outstretched to protect the weak and weary and those whose nerves have gone bump in the night.” What great ways to convey his state of mind.
A description of a man: “His face was gently weathered, like a tree …” A great visual, a simile that gives us a good image. Some would stop there, but Snavely adds that extra lance of light: “His face was gently weathered, like a tree that had learned to bend with the wind.” Now that gives us so much more information about the man. And the woman describing him, yes?
And another: One friend chides another for not taking care of herself while busy care-taking others. “You … sit yourself down … you look like you haven’t eaten since Moses crossed the Red Sea.” That women must look emaciated!
At times kaleidoscopic, the scenes written through the eyes of an Alzheimer’s patient are appropriately fluid, slippery, and erratic. Masterfully crafted .
Much about Alzheimer’s remains a mystery. But the devastation it can wreak in a family is no mystery.
In that environment, Snavely offers a new perspective based on the truth that God’s ways are beyond our ways. God is not bound by space and time as we are, and just because it appears that an Alzheimer’s patient is vegetating doesn’t mean that is actually what is happening.
Snavely’s writing is full of touches that give the reader an extra dose of humanity as they meander through the fog that is Alzheimer’s. The one “read-bump” I encountered was her occasional use of multiple point-of-view characters in a scene. This might be done in some genres, but it was an unfamiliar technique to me. Early on I found it confusing. I became more used to it, but when I encountered it, it did momentarily pull me out of the story world. For other readers it may not be an issue.
In cyber-chatting with Sandy, I asked her to expand on her comment (end note) about how she came up with Ellie’s Window and prepared to write it.
SS: “It was like God opened a book and the story just fell into my heart…. I did quite a bit of research on Alzheimer’s just so that I could write about it without stammering. But I didn’t want the story’s primary message to be about Alzheimer’s but about hope.”
I asked what was her inspiration for some of the unusual perspectives she included.
It’s “one of those things that happens while writing. I closed my eyes and tried to see what Audrey was seeing. … and [it] just seemed to be there waiting for me.”
And the heaven scenes?
“I read several books about heaven … Randy Alcorn’s book, Heaven,… was the first book that helped me to connect the lines between heaven and earth.”
Thanks, Sandy for a peek behind the scenes.