This review of The Story of Forgetting comes from Marie Cloutier of the Gopen Family Library in Brookline, MA. She can also be read at bostonbibliophile.com. We’ve got a couple more coming. Send in yours to firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to see it here!
The Story of Forgetting is a show-stopper of a first novel. Based in part on his own family’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, author Stefan Merrill Block tells the story in two voices- that of Abel, an elderly recluse, and Seth, a lonely teenager. Abel lives by himself in High Plains, Texas, on a slowly diminishing homestead being encroached upon by McMansions and modernity. Seth lives in the Austin area, a somewhat nerdy boy and something of a loner as well. What binds them is a rare (and fictional) variant of Alzheimer’s, which has claimed Seth’s mother and several members of Abel’s family, including his brother Paul. They also share knowledge of a fairytale world called Isidora, where everyone forgets everything.
Seth and Abel are searching—for information, for survival, and, unbeknownst to them, for each other. The narrative unfolds gradually and alternates between the two. Their voices are engaging and distinctive. Abel speaks in a slow, almost literary cadence—a highly intelligent man with a crippling deformity, he spends much of his time with only his immediate family and his books. Seth’s casual, light tone is characteristic of the moody, flippant teenager struggling with his mother’s illness and his secretive, shame-laced family. Also very intelligent, Seth embarks on a solo project to find out all he can about the disease, and then his tone becomes sort of naively academic. He’s obviously out of his depth jumping into amateur neuroscience, but he’s sincere, and he doesn’t know what else to do.
Actually both have secrets and shames that both sadden and fuel them. It’s these secrets— tragedies, really—that give the book so much weight and feeling. The writing is beautiful—very literary in flavor, it’s a book to read slowly, and savor. The fairy tales of Isidora, interspersed throughout the narrative, are sweet and tragic, and symbolic of the pain binding Abel and Seth. Pain—the pain of watching loved ones deteriorate, and the pain of losing love to circumstance and convention—echoes through the book, and makes The Story of Forgetting, a beautiful, accomplished work, impossible to forget.