Don’t Miss “Love, Water, Memory”

Originally published in January 2013 at ChicagoNow

On the heels of 2011’s “Before I Go to Sleep” comes the next amnesiac-with-a-stranger-that-is-or-is-not-the-love-of-her-life book, “Love, Water, Memory” by Jennie Shortridge. Bibliophiles, take note—add this to your spring book reviews.

I don’t know about you, but I think in some cases, without a proper frame of reference, it can be hard to “get” a character. I’m not saying you need to be a drunk to understand the alcoholic in a book, but chances are you can at least relate to what his or her favorite drink tastes like. So to try to write about a character that doesn’t remember who she is, is indeed, a challenge. Shortridge rose to the occasion.

Lucie awakens to readers knee-deep in the San Francisco Bay. She doesn’t know how she got there or why, and is quickly remanded to the psychiatric ward of the closest hospital to await her fate. (Note to readers—if you’ve ever thought feigning amnesia would make for a great vacation from the kids for a few days, remember this: hospital food and people crazier than your kids.) Fate comes a few days later when her fiancé, Grady Goodall, comes from their home in Seattle to retrieve her.

And so it begins—who is Lucie? Is Grady a good guy? If we’re to believe the picture painted by Shortridge, it seems Lucie was quite the bitch on wheels prior to her break from reality. Why? I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that the answer to the Grady question comes pretty quickly, but with its own strings attached. Sure, he’s a warm and decent man—but clearly emotionally damaged as well. (And by the way, breaking a foot reads as immensely painful. Don’t do that.)

There is a third character to this story—Lucie’s Aunt Helen, who figures into the climax of the tale. Helen’s got some ‘splaining to do, and you know those things never end happily. If I had been Lucie, I think I would have been just a little angrier with her, but amnesia seems to have infused her with a whole new layer of empathy in her personality. I don’t know about you, but I think amnesia would make me just plain cranky.

Should you read it? Heading into summer beach season, this is a smart, thoughtful portrayal of a person looking to reconnect to something—anything—whether it be the man she shares a home with, a long-lost relative or even just the neighbor down the street. And isn’t that—our connections to other people—what separates us from monkeys? Or office equipment? It’s one of those, I know.

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