Monday, October 10, 2011

What Alice Forgot by Laine Moriarty — 432 pgs

When Alice falls during her weekly spin class and gets a severe knock on the head, she wakes up to a different world. Alice believes it’s still 1989 and that she’s pregnant with her first child and deliriously in love with her husband. She believes that she and her sister Elisabeth share a close relationship, and her tragic friendship with a woman named Gina never existed. But in reality, it’s 2007 and Alice is the mother of three children who are by turns demanding and frustrating. Her relationship with her husband is a horrible train wreck in the midst of divorce, and for some reason, he can’t even speak to her civilly. Alice of the future has even drifted away from her sister, and seems to find her energies are best spent with her personal trainer and being the all-occasions social director for her children. She has the envy of all the other mothers and a clawing ferocity that drives her days. The only problem is that since Alice’s accident, she doesn’t remember any of this and she is puzzled as to why her life is so alien nowadays. As Alice reacquaints herself with her life and learns how much things have changed for both her and her family, she begins to question both her past and her present, and wonders whether it’s really worth it for her to regain her memory and lose all that she so loves about her past life. Funny, introspective and provocative, What Alice Forgot is a novel of the bliss and surrender of forgetting and pain and work of remembering.

There was a lot about this book to love, and in the way Moriarty presents her story, the narrative almost has the feel of a domestic and romantic mystery. From the minute Alice appears, she’s already lost in the past, her accident and its seriousness just revealed, her life of the present receding backwards. Of course, there’s much confusion surrounding this life that Alice doesn’t remember, and it’s in her naivety and cluelessness that the reader is able to sympathize and commiserate with the much less complicated and even keeled post-accident Alice. I was along for the ride with her, and was just as surprised as she was to find her husband treating her savagely and her kids a rag-tag bunch of rugrats. In Alice’s wide-eyed wondering at a world that had so obviously changed, I found a character I could cheer on and puzzle with: a woman who while once at the center of her world, could now only orbit it confusingly.

As Alice adjusts to her new circumstances, it becomes clear that the Alice of the present was an altogether harder woman that the Alice of the past. Like a diamond, she’s brilliant, shiny and indestructible, but also cold, unforgiving, and at times very smitten with herself. Conversely, the Alice who wakes up after that bang on the head is not only confused, but a little less jaded and sure of herself. Groping for understanding, Alice finds that her friends of the past don’t know her anymore, her children are entities unto themselves, and her husband is not a fan of 2007 Alice. While I was reading this, I began to ask myself how I would feel had I woken up in Alice’s predicament. What would 1989 Heather think about the Heather that I’ve become? This book was ripe with the kind of speculation that imprints itself on the reader and it actively engaged me in playing the what-if game to an endless degree. It was not only a serious look at the ways in which people evolve into faint and homogenized versions of themselves, it was comically amusing in its portrayal of a woman who failed to recognize herself in any way that was concrete.

In a second and more heartrending plot string, Moriarty explores the difficulties and heartbreak of infertility. It seems that Alice’s sister Elisabeth has been having difficulties in this area, and it has completely warped her sensibilities and made her a woman whom Alice scarcely recognizes. As chapters rotate between telling Alice’s story, Elisabeth’s is also revealed, and it’s one of barely contained rage and cloistered disappointment that threatens to overwhelm her. I found that Moriarty really dug deep in these sections, exposing the painful fault lines of the repeated efforts and horrifying indignities of Elisabeth’s struggle through infertility. It’s a protracted and ugly battle that seems to be on an endless loop, eating away the flavor of Elisabeth’s days and her relationships with her family and friends. The pain of being childless in a world of mothers seems to puncture Elisabeth’s very soul, and it’s all Alice can do to witness what her sister’s life has become. As procedure after procedure fails, Elisabeth and her husband Ben are left with sticky hearts full of resentment and disillusionment that cannot be assuaged. A more compelling side story to this book could not be imagined.

Though I’ve attempted to encompass all the book had to offer, this review only scratches the surface of this imaginative, funny and compassionate story. This book was a wicked feat of imagination and I enjoyed every minute of it, whether they be funny outrageous moments, or sobering and reflective moments. This is the type of book that will make its reader stop and ask questions, which is something I’ve heard a lot of other reviewers say as well. It will engage your mind and your heart as you go careening along with Alice as she rediscovers herself and the life that’s now so alien to her. An emotionally engrossing read that was both clever and endearing. Highly recommended.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

27 comments:

Harvee said...

Wonderful book! I loved it!

Aths said...

I have to admit that I wasn't initially looking forward to reading this, but you've made it sound so fabulous that I want to give it a try. I didn't realize there were two storylines in this one, and it sounds like the author tackled both really well.

Sandy Nawrot said...

As you know, I loved this book. It was a little wacky, the falling off the spin cycle and losing ten years. But a great vehicle for making us think about our lives, where we have been and where we are right now.

Kay said...

First of all I want to say that I love your reviews. They are so well done. I've meant to tell you that for a while, but I'm giving myself a little slack on commenting these days. Doesn't mean I don't read the posts, just don't always comment.

I'm looking forward to this book and have read many positive thoughts about it. I'll get to it soon. The whole premise of looking back is appealing.

bermudaonion said...

I thought this book was fabulous too, so I'm not surprised to see you loved it. It really makes you stop and think, doesn't it?

Jenny said...

I was absolutely convinced to read this after Sandy's review but if I hadn't been yours would have. This sounds great and love how the narrative makes it feel like a mystery as well. I absolutely want to read this!! (of course this is the third book just this morning that I've said I'll read soon so we'll see lol!)

Mrs Q Book Addict said...

I've read a few reviews of this one, and I really want to read it. I wonder how her relationships change due to her accident.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I think your review convinced me as well! And yes, I'd hate to do such an analysis on myself! :--)

Beth F said...

That Amy Einhorn can sure pick a winner, can't she. I too am not surprised you loved the book. There was so much to think about.

Trisha said...

Forward time travel is such an interesting premise, especially when traveling to your own life. Great review!

reviewsbylola said...

I am excited to read this one!

Anita said...

This one is on my TBR list....it really intrigues me.
Wonderful review!!

nomadreader said...

I'm fascinated by tales of marriage and things that can make them go wrong or right, as well as by memory, so this one sounds so interesting. I just picked it up from the library, but I hadn't realized it was so long. I hope I have time to squeeze it in before it's due back!

Suko said...

When I went to my first Spin class at the beginning of this year, I worried that I might not make it, that I'd pass out from the sudden, lasting exertion (I have since learned to love Spin). So the premise of this book immediately draws me in, as do your well-crafted words, which mention many of the things I enjoy in books, humor, depth, and the ability to make me think and ponder. Excellent review, Zibilee!

Jenners said...

Excellent review! I loved this book … and it had such a great combination of elements: comedy, tragedy, pain, laughter, mystery. It was such a wonderful mix of elements that worked just perfectly. Such a rare find. I'm so interested in what this author will write next.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I need something a little different and this sure sounds like one that may fit that bill. Loved your take on it.

Beth(bookaholicmom) said...

I have seen many great reviews for this book but your review has me putting this book on my must read list!

TheBookGirl said...

I've seen a run of rave reviews of this one recently, so I have added it to my must read list. I'm not sure I would recognize the ten-year ago me these days...

Darlene said...

Fantastic review as always Heather! You know I'm still thinking about this book. You always know you've read a good book when it sticks with you for a long time. I love stories that make you think about your life or what you would do if you were in a situation that is the same. I'm glad you enjoyed this one as much as I did!

Audra said...

Okay, so this book wasn't high on my TBR because it seemed a little too cutesy, chick-lit-y for my tastes, AND it'd be the third brain damage-memory loss-personality change novel this year, and that's just too much for me.

BUT.

Your review is so enthusiastic and warm, you've got me more than curious. Darn you!! ;)

Lisa said...

For some reason, something about this book just didn't do it for me so I really haven't read any of the reviews. Well, that was stupid, clearly!

Vasilly said...

This book seems packed with drama (my favorite)!

Marie said...

wow, sounds pretty incredible. great review,, heather!

Kaye said...

Heather, you are so adept at reviews, I am in awe every time I read one! What Alice Forgot started out a little slowly for me but once I got into it, I really enjoyed it. Glad you really liked it so much.

kay - Infinite Shelf said...

Wonderful review!
I love novels about memory losses and the like and have had this one on my wishlist for a little while. The fact that there is also a second plot line about her sister's infertility makes it even more interesting to me.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

Loved this book! It was so much MORE than I was prepared for, and really made me look at my own life and how my reality is different than what I thought it would be a decade ago.

Excellent review, hits the highest points of this great read, and lets others know that there's more here than chick lit (don't judge a book by its cover, and all that!)

joanna said...

I've heard only great things about this book. It sounds packed with themes though, I'm curious how the author combines it all!

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