I finished reading this novel today (as a book from Overdrive© on my tablet) for my Third Tuesday Book Club meeting tomorrow night (September 20th, 2016). It won the 2014 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, and was shortlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize. Without going too deeply into the book, it has to do with family relationships, the pitfalls of memory, and what it means to be human. And I very much enjoyed reading the book.
In 2012, Rosemary Cooke is writing about her life. As a child in Bloomington, Indiana, born in 1974, the daughter of a behavioral scientist, she tells us that as a child she was a total non-stop talker, and that her father used to tell her “Start [your story] in the middle”. So our story begins on the University of California – Davis, in a cafeteria in 1996; she is twenty-tw0, and, as she says, “Ten years had passed since I’d last seen my brother, seventeen since my sister disappeared.” She later contributes that her brother is six or seven years older than she is, and that her sister disappeared when she was five. The story takes us from her memories of being five (and before that point), to 2012, meandering back and forth between the past when she was a child, to the events of 1996 in her life, and to 2012.
To say what was different about her childhood would constitute a spoiler (which I avoid like the ten plagues of Egypt). But I can say that Rosemary is the first to say that memory is an uncertain thing; she remembers things that cannot have happened, and has apparently crystal clear recall of other events, and there are other events that she misinterpreted. In short, in that she is like the rest of us; to quote from Rush’s song “Dreamline”, “Time is a gypsy caravan / Steals away in the night / To leave you stranded in Dreamland / Distance is a long-range filter / Memory a flickering light / Left behind in the heartland/.” But this book also discusses what it means to be human (as opposed to other states of being), and the section headings are preceded by quotes from the Franz Kafka short story “Ein Bericht An Eine Akademie” (A Report to an Academy”).
I very much enjoyed reading this book, and anticipate a good Third Tuesday Book Club meeting tomorrow night.