“Dying for Attention: A Graphic Memoir of Nursing Home Care” by Susan MacLeod (part 1 of 2)

By Sarah White

I met Susan MacLeod, author of Dying For Attention, when my Big MFA Adventure began in 2017 with a residency on the campus of the University of King’s College in Halifax. Every student in this MFA-Creative Nonfiction program applies with a book idea. Many leave with a finished manuscript. An impressive number go on to publish that manuscript, as Susan, Class of ’18 has.

In the lecture hall at U-King’s Susan stood out—she was the one with a sketchbook open at all times. She drew simple cartoon depictions of everything happening around her. This was a habit, she explained, that she’d picked up while visiting her mother in long-term care, where it helped her manage her anxiety. Now, she had an idea that she might write a graphic memoir about the nine years she spent as her mother’s advocate with the Canadian long-term care system.  

Author, Artist Susan MacLeod

I’ve been interested in what becomes of us in old age since I first observed my mother’s increasing fragility, and that interest turned to both anger and advocacy when I realized the flawed nature of the long-term care system in the USA. In Canada, the government is more invested in the health system, but the problems faced by daughters like Susan and me and residents like our mothers are very similar across Canada and the USA.

When I heard Susan had received a publishing contract, I couldn’t wait to get a copy of her book. It is everything I hoped for, and more. The artistic style is spare yet winsome. The tone is a poignant mix of funny and thoughtful. This is a heavy subject, but Susan entices readers to stay the course by leavening it with humor and humility.

The book’s 13 chapters follow Susan as she follows her mother down the rabbit hole of aged care. Because Susan worked as a communications professional for a hospital system, she thinks that she is uniquely equipped to overcome the systemic obstacles in her way. But in this rabbit hole, nothing is what it seems.

To give structure to the story, Susan uses repeating literary devices, including “Susan Seeks an Expert,” in which she investigates issues from family dynamics to care industry economics, and “Solutions Susan,” in which a family nickname aptly characterizes the chirpy optimism with which she tries her best to affect change.

It gave me great pleasure to interview Susan about the process of creating her book. Click here to read Part 2 of this review.

Susan MacLeod’s book Dying for Attention is available from the usual online retailers, but why not ask your local bookstore to order a copy for you?

©2021 Sarah White

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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