Barbara De La Cuesta explores the lives of home healthcare workers and their patients in her novel Adam’s Chair. Told in three very different sections, De La Cuesta first uses the point of view of Priscilla, who can trace her roots back to the earliest families in the city, as she bicycles to her job taking care of the disabled and elderly. Interspersed with her own musings on the city and its long relationship with her family are the words of Governor Winthrop circa 1631 and also news reports about the space shuttle Columbia as De La Cuesta seeks to explore the connections between past, present, and future, even in the lives of people seemingly out of touch with reality.
Her second section centers on the patient Henrietta Rose, who, like Clarissa Dalloway in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, plans to throw a party. She is a recovering alcoholic who suffers from Korsakoff’s disease, which has wiped out her short-term memory and forces her to recall the painful events of her past all too easily.
In the final section, we follow Rosa Mundo as she faces the death of her common-law husband, a healthcare worker’s strike, a controversial love affair, and the threat of cancer. In her we see a passionate woman finally coming into her own after years of struggle and insecurities. De La Cuesta succeeds most in the creation of settings. She brings the reader fully into Waltham in the early 1980s and is completely realistic in her vivid descriptions of all of its beauty and dilapidation.
Where the novel lets the reader down occasionally, however, is in her execution of the stream-of-consciousness narrative form that she employs. It works seamlessly in her Mrs. Dalloway-esque Henrietta Rose middle section but is clunky and bothersome in the initial Priscilla section. Overall, I feel it’s a solid novel, and, though a bit tedious in the length (probably because of the stream-of-consciousness form), I would recommend it.
Barbara de la Cuesta