Plot Summary (from Barnes & Noble): What would happen if you were visited by your younger self, and got a chance for a do-over?
Alice Love is twenty-nine years old, madly in love with her husband, and pregnant with their first child. So imagine her surprise when, after a fall, she comes to on the floor of a gym (a gym! she HATES the gym!) and discovers that she’s actually thirty-nine, has three children, and is in the midst of an acrimonious divorce.
A knock on the head has misplaced ten years of her life, and Alice isn’t sure she likes who she’s become. It turns out, though, that forgetting might be the most memorable thing that has ever happened to Alice.
Ahoy! Spoilers off the starboard bow!
This is the first book I’ve read (well…at least that I’ve read in quite a long time, because I don’t remember any others offhand) that was set in Australia. It confused me for a while, because I kept reading about how it was May and the weather was autumnal and I was all “wait, what?” and then at some point I realized they were in Australia. Awkward. I probably missed something in the text that would have tipped me off to the locale, but that’s because I found this book by turns boring and annoying. It really was not my cup of tea. I think I need a list, in fact, to organize my points on this one:
Point the First: During the first several chapters of this book, nobody does anything. Alice comes to, after some disjointed thoughts, on the floor of the gym. She’s taken to the hospital. And then…people talk. Alice reflects. People talk some more. She has visitors. She tries (and fails spectacularly) to get her head around what has happened to her. And finally, in CHAPTER ELEVEN AND ON PAGE 125, she leaves the hospital. I really liked the scene where she looks through her (unfamiliar) gym bag and tries to get clues to who she is from its contents, but other than that, it was a long slog through those pages. Lots of dialogue, lots of exposition, no action. If this book is made into a movie, it’s going to need some creative script writers, because the first 30% of the story would make a really boring movie.
Point the Second: Young Alice is frightfully annoying. Even once she accepts that she really has lost ten years’ worth of memories (which, yes, I get that that would be a real challenge to come to terms with), she absolutely refuses to believe that her life has turned out the way it has. She’s over-the-top naive, easily wounded, almost entirely ignorant of the world around her (she prides herself on knowing, in 1998, that there’s a millennium coming up), and seems much, much younger than 29. I mean, she comes up with this little gem, while thinking of an old schoolyard memory: “…the rule of life was that the boys got to decide which girls were pretty; it didn’t really matter how ugly they were themselves.” I’m sorry, whut? Did you really just think that? I remember 1998, folks. It wasn’t 1958.
Point the Third: Alice lies to the hospital so they will release her, and when her family members express concern that she is essentially moving through her life with no idea who she is or what her life is like these days, she promises to follow up with a doctor but never does. She just keeps lying. “Oh yes, I’ve nearly got my memory back,” when she can’t recall her children’s names or what they look like. “Bits and pieces are coming back to me,” when she has absolutely no memory of the woman who was her best friend. But through the convenience of fiction, her body magically knows, through force of habit I guess, exactly where her children’s school is, and how to drive her big hulking SUV, which she does with all three kids in the back despite not remembering a thing about it and thinking the vehicle is much too big (and this is just one example). Fabulous and safe parenting there, Alice. If she were my sister, her ass would be in a doctor’s office tout de suite, and I would expect my family members to do the same for me. But everyone in Alice’s life either believes her despite constant evidence to the contrary, or blithely lets her float along and hopes that at some point it’ll all come back to her. I have a really hard time believing this.
Point the Fourth: Alice appears to have absolutely no appreciation, for about 95% of the book, for the value of lived experience. As soon as she hears that she’s separated from her husband, her only goal is to reconcile. She has no idea why they’ve separated, and it doesn’t really seem like she cares all that much. As soon she realizes that her relationships have changed with friends, neighbors, family…she sets about putting them back exactly as they were ten years ago. Rather than trusting herself in the decisions she’s made over the years, Alice tries to turn back the clock, and heaps scorn and negativity on her present self. It’s not until her memory comes back that she finally realizes how ridiculously she was acting. It’s a good argument for maybe laying low for a while until you remember who you are, eh Alice?
Point the Fifth: As Alice finally does recover her memory (which happens dramatically all at once), we’re treated to yet more pages of nothing but exposition. Nothing happens. Again. She faints, she’s carried (by her soon-to-be-ex and her boyfriend, of course) away to lie on the grass, she recalls all of her memories through pages and pages AND PAGES of info-dump, and then all of a sudden she’s Older Alice who remembers the last ten years, and of course everything she was berating herself about was actually entirely reasonable. In my opinion, the only relationship that really benefited from her adventure was the relationship with her sister, which needed some attention and was worth salvaging. Pretty much everything else she did while in Memory Loss Land? Ill-advised.
Point the Sixth: The epilogue. Oh, the epilogue. Which fast forwards another ten years to show us how it all worked out. And in which we find out that she’s gotten back together with her douchetwaddle of a husband that she was ready to divorce. Because I guess there would have been no point to Younger Alice’s theatrics if she had just decided that she had a good thing going with the boyfriend and let the relationship with the ex go. It’s a “love conquers all” story, without the messy bits like resolving the actual issues that caused the separation in the first place. I mean…I guess they were resolved, but we’re never really told that and it all happens offstage.
Moriarty’s characters are compelling, and I liked almost all of them. Younger Alice was dreadful, in my opinion, but I quite liked Older Alice. I would have liked to have read the book about the reconciliation with the ex, because there were real challenges there to overcome. Unfortunately, that’s not the book Moriarty wrote.
The Verdict: Great characters, unappealing story. I was much more invested in Elisabeth’s secondary story, even though it was mostly told through diary entries. Alice’s vacation from reality was an interesting premise, but I found the execution rather lacking. What Alice Forgot had a lot of blurbs on the cover, calling it “hilarious,” but I didn’t laugh once. I give this book two out of five lemon meringue pies.