By Rachel Khong
196 pp. Henry Holt & Company. $26.
In previous generations, the age of 30 was practically middle-aged; it was a realizable aspiration to be married, have children and own a home by then. But times have changed. The average age of first marriages has been creeping upward for years, we have children later and later, and owning a home, particularly in expensive cities like New York and Los Angeles, has become out of reach for all but the wealthiest millennials. Yet 30 still looms large over the psyches of 20-somethings, as though it’s the age when you’re supposed to at least be on your way to figuring it all out.
Ruth, the 30-year-old protagonist of Rachel Khong’s “Goodbye, Vitamin,” most definitely does not have it all figured out. She’s still not over Joel, her ex-fiancé, who broke off their engagement in the cruelest, most passive-aggressive way possible (he tells her they’re going to move into a new apartment, and it’s not until the night before the move that he informs her she’s going to be moving into it alone; meanwhile, he has a new girlfriend). When she goes home to Southern California for Christmas for the first time in years, her mother asks if she’d be willing to live with them for a while, because her father is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
It doesn’t exactly seem like a recipe for a darkly comic yet heartfelt novel, but that’s exactly what “Goodbye, Vitamin” is. Told in a diary format over the year that Ruth spends at home, “Goodbye, Vitamin” is a quietly brilliant disquisition on family, relationships and adulthood, told in prose that is so startling in its spare beauty that I found myself thinking about Khong’s turns of phrase for days after I’d finished reading. Ruth’s trying to save her doomed…