The room was silent
From the very beginning young Brian Mauretti has a difficult go of things. Almost immediately after his mother Joan stops breastfeeding him the troubles begin. He’s unable to hold down formula and screams for hours on end, driving his parents and his older brother crazy. Joan fears that she’s starving her precious baby boy, but repeated trips to the family’s pediatrician result in her being told that she’s overreacting and that Brian will be just fine. Thinking that he may be lactose intolerant, Brian is put on a soy formula, and that’s when bad goes to worse.
Based on historical events, Goodnight, Brian follows the lives of one fictional family that, upon seeking a second opinion about their son’s well-being, is devastated to learn that their child has metabolic alkalosis, a blood disorder that affects his ability to digest food and gain weight. The disorder is caused by a lack of sodium, and Brian contracted it because the makers of the soy formula he was ingesting, Syntex, reformulated their mixture to reduce its sodium content in order to save money.
The doctor informs the Mauretti family that the brain damage Brian has suffered as a result is irreversible and that he’ll never be able to walk or talk. His grandmother, known affectionately to everyone simply as “Mama,” has strikingly different ideas about what Brian will be able to achieve and she makes it her life’s mission to prove medical science wrong.
Born into a horrible situation, but surrounded by a family who loves and adores him, Brian flourishes under his grandmother’s guidance, patience, and love. Slowly, the impossible becomes possible as Mama takes it upon herself to lay down the family laws when it comes to how Brian will be treated and what will be expected from him. “Can’t” is a word that is immediately removed from the Mauretti vernacular, as Mama’s faith in a higher power, not to be confused with her religion, is put to the ultimate test with the arrival of this very special boy.
While the majority of the family rallies around Mama, the boy’s father Frank has a difficult time dealing with his son’s prognosis. He’s thankful for his mother-in-law’s presence in his son’s life, but he’s also resentful that he can’t provide for the needs of his child, and he’s confused and paralyzed with fear about how to handle his son. Frank is one of the more interesting characters in the novel, but sadly he feels a little underdeveloped by the novel’s conclusion.
Rounding out the Mauretti family are Brian’s younger sister, his uncle Bob, and his two female cousins. While most all are involved in one situation or another that is meant to reinforce the power of Mama’s unconditional love, some do feel a bit too manufactured. Regardless though, the core of this story is about the relationship between Brian and his grandmother and this essential piece is written perfectly.
Manchester captures the special nature of grandparents in such a strikingly beautiful way that, personally speaking, it became very difficult for me to finish this novel. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I myself had lost my last remaining grandparent just a few years ago and what I was reading was so close to my own experiences.
With Goodnight, Brian Steven Manchester has delivered a novel that acts as a welcome wake-up call to a disconnected generation that tends to rely on its passionate relationship with the instantaneous pleasures that technology provides in place of cultivating lasting, meaningful bonds with the very people that should be closest to them. It’s a refreshing throwback that examines the limitless potential for overcoming even the greatest of odds that can only come from the power of unconditional love and the strong ties that bind a tight-knit family unit. Or to put it another way: it’s a great, uplifting read that’s worthy of your attention.
By Steven Manchester
The Story Plant