The Last Dance, Facing Alzheimer's with Love and Laughter

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Readers' Comments

"candidly tells the story of Susan McLane's decline...Kuster sees and embraces the life spark that remains."

-- Rebecca Rule, "Book Marks," November 14, 2004, Concord Monitor, Portsmouth Herald, Nashua Telegraph.

"Through her exemplary life in politics and public service, Susan McLane has taught us so much. She stood firmly for her convictions and called things the way she saw them. In The Last Dance, her grace and courage teach us new lessons as she and her family face the challenge of Alzheimer's."

-- Hillary Rodham Clinton, U.S. Senator

"The Last Dance is a love story, a simple, straightforward but painfully honest story of how a family -- and especially a mother and daughter -- deal with the crushing burden of Alzheimer's. They deal with it as they have dealt with every other part of their lives, by embracing it, enfolding it into their shared experience -- and then overwhelming it with their love.

I know I am biased, because of the deep affection I feel for the McLanes. But I cannot imagine anyone finishing this book without a sense of gratitude for what Annie and Susan and all their family have allowed the readers to share. Like their hospitality, it warms your heart and lifts your spirit. These people really know how to give to others what they so richly enjoy themselves -- love, love and more love."

-- David S. Broder, The Washington Post


"I cannot remember anyone of more good will, love and quiet guts than Susan and Malcolm McLane. The book brings back memories of their hearty good cheer and love of all good causes. Helping get David Souter to the U.S. Supreme Court may be Susan's greatest political achievement."

-- Congressman Pete McCloskey, Jr.

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Book Club Discussion for The Last Dance

  1. Based upon your own experience with aging and Alzheimer's disease (or any other illness), how did you relate to the various members of the McLane family in The Last Dance? Which character best describes your role? Do you recognize other members of your family? Explore themes of denial and candor that may have influenced your experience.
  2. How was your experience similar? How was it different? Do you have a sense of why you react the way you do to the challenges you face? Does your reaction influence the experience of others?
  3. Do you believe that Susan McLane's reaction to Alzheimer's may have influenced her experience with the disease? Explore the concept that "perception becomes reality" in your own life. Who controls your destiny? What literary characters come to mind?
  4. How did communication in the McLane family change as Susie's Alzheimer's progressed? How has your family communication changed over time? Does your role in the family influence your pattern of communication and level of candor? Explore the concept of family secrets in your life.
  5. The Last Dance explores the changing role of women over several generations. Which character relates best to your life story? What historical events have shaped the decisions in your life? Do you have regrets about decisions you have made in your life?
  6. Susan McLane reacts to events in her life with the expression "and so, there it is." Do you consider her approach fatalistic or a realistic coping mechanism for facing adversity? How do you cope with adversity in your life?
  7. What is your reaction to the expression "One foot in the future, one foot in the past, and you are pissing on the present"? How do events in your past, or plans for your future, impact upon the way you live your life every day?
  8. Susan grew up an identical twin in a small community with a well- known father. How did these elements of her childhood influence her adult life? Explore the balance between private and public lives. How do these themes impact your life? What historic or literary characters come to mind?
  9. The Last Dance could best be described as "herstory." How does this approach differ from classical forms of "history"? Which do you prefer? Why?
  10. How did the natural world influence The Last Dance? Explore the impact of the changing seasons, the geography of New Hampshire, and the natural beauty of the land in the book. How does nature influence your life?
  11. The events of September 11, 2001, profoundly influenced our lives. How have historical events changed your perspective on life? Explore the reaction of various characters in the book to changes in the world of politics and historical events. How have these same events (World War II, the Vietnam Era, September 11) changed your life or those in your family?
  12. Susan and Malcolm McLane lived in England when they were first married and traveled the world throughout their lives. Explore the juxtaposition of creating a world view while living their entire lives in a small state surrounded by people they have known since childhood.
  13. "Change is the only constant in our lives." Do you embrace change or do you prefer life to stay the same? How did the characters in The Last Dance react to the changes in their lives? Explore the metaphors for change (the Old Man of the Mountain, raising children and aging parents, the seasons) in the book.
  14. Susan McLane has led "a meaningful life." She is "willing to die tomorrow." Explore your assessment of your own life and how that influences your approach to death and dying. Now explore how your approach the end of life influences the way you lead your life every day.
  15. Would you recommend The Last Dance to a friend or to someone in your family? Why? Would you tell them why before they read the book? How might their reaction differ from yours?

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