Saturday, October 8, 2011

What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty

One day, Alice Love falls off her bike in spin class, hitting her head hard on her way to the floor. When she comes to, she has forgotten the past ten years of her life. Instead of the 29-year-old happily married and newly pregnant, slightly flaky and sedentary but fun-loving young woman she thinks she is, she is a 39-year-old separated mother of three, thin, driven, uptight, and at odds with her sister Elisabeth, who is struggling with infertility. She doesn't know why she is getting a divorce or why her sister (and a few other old acquaintances) don't seem to like her anymore. She doesn't recognize her children and has no idea what they like to do or eat, when they go to bed, etc. Nor does she know whether she has slept with the man who appears to be her new boyfriend, the principal of her children's school. She knows that someone named Gina had an important role in the ten lost years, but she doesn't know what that role was.

Alice's story unfolds in a third-person narrative from Alice's perspective, but also includes two first-person elements that provide other views on Alice's predicament and introduce subplots of their own. One of these elements is a series of diary-style entries written by Elisabeth and addressed to her therapist, who is helping her with the psychological toll that infertility has taken on her. The other is a series of letters written by Alice and Elisabeth's adoptive grandmother Frannie to her long-dead fiance. Frannie is first irritated by and then falls in love with a new resident at her assisted living facility.

I liked the premise of the book, which sparks reflection: What about your current life would be surprising if you suddenly woke up with no memory of the past ten years? Would you like yourself? How would you feel about having certain people falling out of your life? Might you recognize influences that shaped where you are today, without your perceiving those influences as they occurred?

Moriarty has packed the book with quirky characters, and some provide genuinely funny moments. The book seems long, however, and perhaps a good editor might have encouraged some judicious trimming of characters and scenes (perhaps Frannie's subplot could have gone entirely, as it is not as compelling as the two sisters' stories). Moriarity's choice of a happy ending for everyone seems a bit contrived, although perhaps she intends to convey a message that no matter the challenges faced and missteps made, you can build the life you want. Despite these quibbles, I enjoyed What Alice Forgot.

Favorite passage: None (this book is really about the premise and the plot--the writing itself is competent but not memorable)

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