Title: What Alice Forgot
Author: Liane Moriarty
When I was packing for Alaska, I turned to my bedside table to pack my books. When I go on vacation, I typically arm myself with about one book for each day. I don't often read them all, but since books are my transitional objects, it would be disastrous if I had to endure a day without the possibility of something to read (I know, it sounds dramatic and kind of crazy, but I can hardly get through a pb&j and a bag of Doritos for lunch without a book in my face). So I looked at the stack on my bedside table, serious books about what it means to be a writer, essays by Annie Dillard (in other words, something I know that I should like, but I don't like much anyway), books about Asperger's and international adoption, a few historical books, and Siddhartha Mukherjee's tome on cancer, and most of the books didn't feel like vacation books. So I did what anyone in my position would do, I loaded up the iPad with some lighter reading. Interestingly enough, three of the four books I bought (I did tackle some of the less swishy books, but The Emperor of All Maladies was not among them) that afternoon (this and the next two I'll review) all felt fairly similar, like I could be reading them and discussing them in the same graduate seminar.
I take that back. As much as I enjoyed Liane Moriarty's What Alice Forgot, it's not the kind of book I'd read in any of the graduate seminars I've had so far. But it's a perfect book for a mom to read on a beach (or in my case, freezing my booty off in a deck chair while watching glaciers calve). In What Alice Forgot, Alice falls off her bike in a spin class one morning, and when she regains consciousness, she wonders what the heck she's doing on a spin bike in the first place. As far as she remembers she's 29 (ish?), a little soft around the middle, desperately in love with her husband, and expecting her first baby. Unfortunately for Alice, she's really 39, fit the way only a rich housewife can be, frustrated by her three children, and getting a divorce from the lovely Nick. And the 29-year-old Alice isn't sure that she likes who the 29-year-old Alice has become.
At first I wasn't sure if the book employed some elements of magical realism, but instead Moriarty is working with the soap opera's best friend-- amnesia. The book is light enough, and well written enough that I didn't find myself stumbling over her word choices, but that's not really what What Alice Forgot is about. Instead, it made me (only a few years away from 39 myself) question how the 26-year-old Shelah would judge the 36-year-old Shelah. And I think that's Moriarty's point. While we're all eager to know if Alice and Nick can mend fences (in this genre do you think it's possible for fences not to be mendable?) or if Alice's sister can finally have a baby (once again, expect happy endings) or if she can be happy if her belly isn't perfectly flat, I think the larger take away is how we can work to change the people we've become if we decide that we don't like those people.