Thursday, June 28, 2012

BlogHer Book Review: What Alice Forgot

I signed up for this BlogHer book review of Liane Moriarty's What Alice Forgot somewhat reluctantly. The description sounded like a heavy-handed romantic comedy, and I'm not much for romantic sap.
After a bump on the head at the gym, our protagonist--Alice Love--wakes up feeling fine but thinking that it's ten years earlier. And ten years ago her life was pretty good; she was a twenty-nine-year-old newlywed who had just bought a money pit of a fixer-upper house and was giddily expecting her first child. But reality is hard to take. She's now thirty-nine, in the middle of a nasty divorce, living in her gorgeously renovated home, and she has three children who she doesn't remember at all.

Despite my reservations, I found myself getting drawn into the story. I won't give away too many details because the real joy of this book is the discovery of a secret life. The narrative is never boring, and Moriarty skillfully intertwines Alice's first-person (and memory-muddled) perspective with epistilary forms from both Alice's sister (who is struggling with infertility issues that threaten her marriage and her own sanity and who is writing hypothetical letters to her psychologist) and Alice's "adopted" grandmother (who is writing letters to an old estranged lover as she dips her toe into the dating scene in her new assisted living community).

By tying together these women's voices, What Alice Forgot becomes more than a light-hearted treasure hunt through one woman's forgotten history (though it delivers on that front) and transcends into a woman-centric exploration of some of life's larger questions: What's the meaning of love? What's the role of a parent? How do you make relationships (of all kinds) last?

I was actually surprised at some of the personal connections I felt while reading this book, and it made me question--in a way that such "fun" reads rarely do--my own perspectives.

What would I think of my life if I woke up today with the mind I had ten years ago? I would have been seventeen and very, very hopeful about the future. Would I be disappointed in my choices? Proud? Have I excelled beyond what I had imagined?

What was so sad to me was the way that Alice had drifted away from so many friendships in ten years and how the friends she'd accumulated instead weren't doing much to fulfill her need for human connection. She'd spent so much time trying to fit into the part of the perfect upper-middle-class housewife that she'd forgotten who she was before that role.

But perhaps the most poignant part of the story was watching--in reverse--a marriage between two people who truly loved one another fall apart. Is it really that easy to stop prioritizing a relationship that you've grown to take for granted? Is there a breaking point, a point of no return, or is it just so many little things that there's really no way to predict where you could turn back around?

This is a fast read that kept me engaged, and I've found myself thinking about the characters and their lives often even since I've finished it. If you're in the market for a fun summer read that touches upon some serious themes, I'd recommend it.

You can follow the discussion about What Alice Forgot over at BlogHer.

Compensation Disclosure: I was compensated for this review, but all opinions and ideas are solely my own. 

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