Susan Cushman Explores Interracial Relationships and Dementia in New Novel

Susan Cushman, John and Mary Margaret

By Susan Cushman

My latest novel John and Mary Margaret—released in June 2021—is actually my third book that deals with Alzheimer’s disease. My memoir, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s, was published in 2017 and has already been featured here at And one of the stories in my short story collection, Friends of the Library, also deals with Alzheimer’s. When I decided to expand that story, “John and Mary Margaret,” into a novel, I also introduced Lewy Body Dementia into the story, as a way to spread awareness about this devastating type of progressive dementia.

I wrote John and Mary Margaret in the midst of growing racial injustice protests nationwide. Their story—about a Black boy and a White girl who fall in love on the Ole Miss campus in 1966—is set against the backdrop of fifty years of civil rights history. While it’s true that the most prevalent topic in John and Mary Margaret is healing the racial divide, a major plot point involves their discovery—fifty years after their failed love affair in college—that their spouses are residents in the same nursing home. John’s wife, Elizabeth, has Lewy Body Dementia, and Mary Margaret’s husband, Walter, suffers from Alzheimer’s. Their separate caregiving journeys merge as they support each other during the final months of Walter and Elizabeth’s lives.

When I published Tangles and Plaques—which was a compilation of sixty blog posts about caregiving for my mother over an eight-year period—my purpose was clearly to share my journey using “in-the-moment” anecdotes about my caregiving experience. The response from readers has confirmed the success of the book, as so many people can relate to the struggles involved in taking care of a loved one who suffers from dementia, especially when the relationship was already strained. As I said in the book, the tangles and plaques are often not only in our brains, but also in our relationships.

My hope is that John and Mary Margaret’s story will speak to readers who may also be facing a similar situation—one in which the caregiver may have chemistry with someone other than their spouse, who has forgotten who they are, while they are still loving and caring for them. In this story, the caregivers face a difficult decision: do they postpone acting on their feelings for one another until their spouses are no longer living? (No spoiler alert here—you have to read the book to find out!)

Purchase John and Mary Margaret from Amazon

Purchase Tangles and Plaques from Amazon

About the Author

Susan Cushman, author of John and Mary MargaretIn addition to John and Mary Margaret (novel), Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter face Alzheimer’s (memoir), Friends of the Library (short stories), and Cherry Bomb (novel), Susan has three other published books—anthologies of essays by other authors, which she edited. She also has essays published in five anthologies, including most recently Navigating Eldercare & Dementia: 101 Stories for Family Caregivers (Chicken Soup for the Soul, 2021). Having lost both her mother and grandmother to Alzheimer’s, she enjoys “giving back” to the dementia community as a speaker, and also as a writing workshop leader at a senior living facility in Memphis, where she lives. Susan is a native of Jackson, Mississippi.

Connect with Susan Cushman

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