Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Story of Forgetting

Some books are easy: they engage your head with strong characters and/or good storytelling, but somehow miss connecting with your heart. That's not necessarily a bad thing--I'm wholly in favor of reading for the sheer fun of it, and every book isn't going to connect with every reader.

But some books...some books are hard. They hit you in the gut, and once they have you, they don't let go. You can still get the strong characters and the good storytelling, but this time they're wedded to a plot or situation that grabs you by the heart and squeezes till you can hardly breathe. The experience isn't always enjoyable, but when it's all over, it feels right, somehow. Necessary.

The Story of Forgetting is about a family devastated by a genetic variant of early onset Alzheimer's. We spend our time alternating between Abel, a hunchback who lives with his twin brother Paul and Paul's wife May in the 40s, and Seth, a modern day teenager whose mother is suffering from the disease. The connection between these two threads is a family story of the golden city of Isadora, where there is no sorrow because there is no memory.

Maybe it hit me so hard because, like most people passing 40, Alzheimer's is the biggest Bogeyman in my personal Anxiety Closet. Diseases of the body are bad, no doubt. But in most cases they can be fought, and even if they can't, you don't lose who you are in the process. You will be changed, certainly, but not lost. With Alzheimer's, you can lose everything: friends, family, security. Worse, your shell is still around, but none of the people who care about you can connect with you.

Maybe it hit me so hard because I was thinking about my own mother, who passed away a few years ago. Her problems were physical, to start with, but soon her mind began to go, too. We were luckier than many--she lost track of time, but she still recognized us till right at the end. Still, her confusion was heartbreaking.

So yeah, this book was difficult for me. But having gone through it and come out the other side, I feel a little bit better about it all. Don't get me wrong--there are no easy answers. But sometimes, it's enough to spend some time with someone who understands.

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