Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Memory Book, by Lara Avery

Sammie's worked hard all her life to get good grades and a ticket out of her small Upstate New York town.  But when she is diagnosed with an incurable terminal disease that will strip her of her mind and bring on dementia, her plans get torn asunder.  Now just struggling to survive, she pours every memory she has into her laptop, creating "the memory book" which she hopes to use to record what she remembers while she still can.

That project becomes more than a place to download stories of her past.  It also serves to journal her slow descent into dementia, documenting in painful detail the way that her disease affects her friendships, family, and her loved ones.  In that context, the petty infighting and a potential love triangle that dominate her life will seem silly, but these things serve as a reminder that life does go on.

The novel is every bit as heart wrenching as you can imagine.  At times the story falters, but the material is powerful enough to move it along.  The weaknesses stem from the insurmountable issue of a heroine who gradually loses coherence as the story continues.  The tension between the personal emotional growth that Sammie experiences with her physical and cognitive degeneration is difficult to parse and occasionally fails.  In the end, it is really the side characters (her friends and family) who have to take over the story.  The reader is forced (along with her loved ones) to let go of her.  In the end, much of her story is unfinished -- which is a realistic (albeit unsatisfying) conclusion.

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