Book Review: Readings
Though this debut novel is about Alzheimer's, it's too funny, too inventive, too tender and finely written to be reduced to its tragic engine
Reviewed by Kimberley Jones, Fri., April 11, 2008
The Story of Forgetting: A Novelby Stefan Merrill Block
Random House, 320 pp., $25
The opening chapter of The Story of Forgetting, titled "Once, I Fell in Love With Everything," should be read in quiet, in private. In a slim seven pages, Block produces a searing portrait of grief and a soaring portrait of unrequited love suddenly reciprocated. It's an emotional high-wire act, one that continues throughout this terrific debut novel from the 26-year-old Plano native. Chapter 1 belongs to elderly hunchback Abel, who stomps around his abandoned ranch house in the Dallas suburbs, haunted by long-gone family, some of whom were lost to early-onset Alzheimer's. Five hours away in Austin, 15-year-old Seth watches his own mother, barely in her 40s, "carry out the vagueness of her days" as she deteriorates to the same disease. Abel and Seth trade chapters, alongside historical accounts of the (fictional) EOA-23 variant of Alzheimer's that links Seth's and Abel's families. There is also the slow unfurling of a myth passed down, like the mutated gene, between generations: a myth about a Vonnegut-ian land called Isidora, a utopia where no one speaks nor retains any memories. ("In a single, busy day, an Isidoran woman might fall in love with fifteen Isidoran men or – if chance will have it – the same Isidoran man, fifteen times.") There are some excruciating passages detailing the slow, many deaths of the Alzheimer's patient (death of memory, death of motor function, and on and on), but Block's book isn't a relentless bummer. It's too funny, too inventive, too tender and finely written to be reduced to its tragic engine. And while The Story of Forgetting may be about the slow erosion of memory, it's also a monument to memory, to how, long after the objects of our affection forget us, they still live on for us in heartrending, near-tactile detail.
Stefan Merrill Block will appear at BookPeople on Tuesday, April 15, at 7pm.