This story completely blew me away. Only time will tell, but it's my early pick for the most important book of the year; maybe the decade.
That said, I'm certain there will be a profusion of outrage over it, and I can just see the reviews now: he's abandoned her -- he should be ashamed -- it's his story, not his wife's.
But it is nothing of the sort; and anyone waxing judgmental, without walking a mile in the man's shoes, is the one who should be ashamed. For the record he has not abandoned his wife (who no longer recognizes him or remembers his name), but he has found a way to move on with his own life -- to avoid allowing it to be consumed along with hers, while at the same time doing everything he can, financially and emotionally, to support her in her tragic and incredibly sad decline that he is powerless to halt.
Keep in mind that these people are still in their 50s -- Jan could linger on, continuing her relentless downhill course, for another 30 years, or more. Remember also that the incidence of Alzheimer's is increasing (no one knows why), and by 2040 there will be a 1:4 to 1:3 chance that you or someone you love will suffer from it. And there is no realistic prospect of a cure. And there is no evidence that there is anything -- anything -- you can do to prevent it.
I can't imagine how I would cope with a similar situation -- but what I really don't want to think about is how my wife and children would cope if it happened to me. If I'm afflicted, I'll be in la-la land, I won't care; but the financial and emotional and other effects on the people I love are things I cannot even bring myself to contemplate. There is no question, in my mind, that the real victims of Alzheimer's are the loved ones, much more than the patients.
So not only do we have no right to judge the author's decisions, we should applaud not only his courage in making them, but his willingness to write about them in the hope that others will be inspired to find ways to minimize the impact of this cruel disease, to the extent that they can.
Update, end of September 2011: The book is still my pick for the most important of the year -- and reviews have distributed pretty much as I predicted. Note that the vast majority of severely judgmental reviewers did not actually buy the book (at least not from Amazon), and probably have not read it. As for me, after re-reading the book last week I reiterate my utmost empathy for everyone, patients and loved ones alike, who are victimized by this cruel disease -- including Barry Peterson, who still strikes me as a very good man, doing the best he can with a tragic situation.