A woman comes back to consciousness after hitting her head at the gym. As she wakes up, she believes it is 1998, she is pregnant with her first child, has a loving relationship with her husband and that the two have just bought an old home filled with possibilities and projects. The reality is that it is actually 2008, she has three children, is in the process of a divorce and the house projects have long ago been completed. Essentially, she’s lost the last ten years of her life and has no recollection of what happened or who all these people are, including her children. She doesn’t even recognize who she has become. This is the intriguing premise of What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty.
Memories are a tricky thing. We know how we think of the past but do we really know how it changes us? How an attitude about someone or something affects who we are and how we act. Would we like something we previously disliked if we had no memory of why we didn’t like it? Good question.
Lately, I’ve had an intersection of memories and I partly blame/applaud Facebook. A friend posted photos, bringing me right back to a recent beach vacation; then there are the many reminiscences from my college friends that take me back to an even earlier time. Easter reminded me of the holiday rituals I’ve adopted from my Northwest “family” and just how many of my holiday memories are tied to living here.
Certainly my memories would be different if I hadn’t moved to Washington, but would I be different? How have they shaped me, and, if given a do-over like Alice, is there a ten year period I would choose to redo? Who would I be instead? Perhaps it's something we all wonder since there are quite a few popular movies and books with that premise.
The truth is that each decade came with challenges as well as many joys. You can’t get rid of one without losing the other. I don’t think I’d want to. Besides, my life isn’t a movie and there are no second chances to go back and change what was. I am who I am, though hopefully, a slightly improved version. I’m sure my friends, old and new, will not pause in letting me know if I’m not.
In the book, we live through Alice as she experiences her now unfamiliar life. It is curious how her body remembers some things, like how she likes running or how she knows her morning make-up ritual, but that her mind is still a blank. She does have feelings about things but not always the reason, like why a particular corner makes her sad. There are also some disjointed memories, the ones just beyond her reach. She can sense them but they’re illusive. Then there is Gina, an individual everyone is cautious about what they say. Gina seems to have some sort of important role in Alice’s life but Alice doesn’t remember anything about her.
Without the memories of what has happened in the missing years, Alice doesn’t approach her family or friends in the same way. That turns out to be a good thing since she became a tough person to be around these last few years and has strained relationships with some of those closest to her.
I found that I was almost cheering for Alice to not get her memory back. I liked her present version, which has become a blend of who she was at a younger age and the better aspects of who she has become since. I kept on reading because I wanted to know if her memory returned, and if so, to see if Alice kept some of this new person.
Memories do have a hand in creating who we are but they are still our past. It is fun to share stories with old friends, yet it is also enjoyable creating new memories with both them and our new friends.
So, perhaps that's the message, that while memories are valuable and do help build who we are, it is the present we should live in and leave the way we were behind…