Stefan Merrill Block | The Story of Forgetting (Random House)

book_block2.jpgStefan Merrill Block’s elegant prose kept me turning the pages.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m a firm believer: You really can judge a book by its cover. Take The Story of forgetting, for example. A sleigh bed in the midst of a forest. Appealing, right? Now compare that to its summary: "Abel Haggard is an elderly hunchback who haunts the remnants of his family’s farm in the encroaching shadow of the Dallas suburb, adrift in recollections of those he loved and lost long ago." A hunchback? Reflecting on love and loss? Does that really sound like something worth reading?

Still, the pretty cover led me to pick up the book—and Stefan Merrill Block’s elegant prose kept me turning the pages. "I never found a way to fill all the silence," it begins. "In the months that followed the great tragedy of my life, I sprang from my bed every morning, donned by five-pound, cork-soled boots and did a high-step from room to room, colliding with whatever I could. The silence meant absence and absence meant remembering, and so I made a racket." You can see why I kept reading.

The Story of Forgetting follows two protagonists, the aforementioned hunchback, Abel, and, three hours south, nerdy high-school student Seth. While Abel reflects on his life—an early adulthood living with his brother Paul and Paul’s wife, Mae. Of course this is a story of coveting thy brother’s wife…a desire that was fulfilled when Paul was drafted into the army. Of course, happiness was short-lived; immediately upon Paul’s return, Mae broke things off with Abel; the daughter she delivered nine months later was raised as Paul’s. In present day, Abel is losing a battle to stay in his longtime home, a blight against the upper middle-class neighborhoods which sprung up around him.

In between adolescent awkwardness and problems fitting in at school, Seth has taken it upon himself to learn all that he can about early-onset Alzheimer’s. His methods are a bit unorthodox: he hacks into a physician researcher’s notes and contacts each of his patients, thereby gathering firsthand .data. Tying the two personas together is a fairytale of a land called Isidora, a place where memory and speech have no place.

Abel is a compassionate and reliable narrator, weaving an intricate and interesting tale of brothers and the woman who lay between them. We embrace his old-fashioned actions—riding an old horse to the grocery store, rather than driving like everyone else—and sympathize with his lifelong snatched-back desire. While he’s come to terms with losing his one true love, he’s also searching for the daughter who fled his life 20 years prior.

Seth’s world comes crumbling down when his mother falls down the stairs, and is subsequently diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimers; he then throws himself into his research. This adds an additional layer to the novel, as we learn more about this rare form of forgetfulness. It’s genetic, for one thing; its origin can be pinpointed to one forgetful playboy centuries back.

Eventually, of course, Block ties the tales of Abel and Seth together. While there are no outright happy endings for either character, there is a satisfactory tying of loose ends. Though some things may be inevitable, The Story of Forgetting reminds us that loss and life exist side by side always. | Laura Hamlett

About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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