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

Readings

The Story of Forgetting: A Novel

by 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.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Alzheimer's
A Way Back to Tenderness
A Way Back to Tenderness
Writing workshops serve Austin's aging and their caregivers

Amy Gentry, Dec. 27, 2013

More Book Reviews
<i>Presidio</i> by Randy Kennedy
Presidio by Randy Kennedy
For his debut novel, Kennedy creates a road story that portrays the harsh West Texas terrain beautifully and fills it with sympathetic characters.

Jay Trachtenberg, Sept. 14, 2018

Hunting the Golden State Killer in <i>I'll Be Gone in the Dark</i>
Hunting the Golden State Killer in I'll Be Gone in the Dark
How Michelle McNamara tracked a killer before her untimely death

Jonelle Seitz, July 20, 2018

More by Kimberley Jones
AFS Spotlights the Early Work of <I>Support the Girls</I> Director Andrew Bujalski
AFS Spotlights the Early Work of Support the Girls Director Andrew Bujalski
Three from the heart

Jan. 4, 2019

Ring in the New Year With a Binge Watch
Ring in the New Year With a Binge Watch
12 streaming shows to get you to midnight and beyond

Dec. 27, 2018

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Alzheimer's, The Story of Forgetting

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle