Girl Talk: What Alice Forgot

I mentioned last week that I'd recently read What Alice Forgot and several of you said you were up for a little girl talk. It's the kind of book that sticks with you, makes you ponder, and begs to be discussed over a pumpkin spice latte and some gingerbread. So, let's do that!

The premise of the book is captured in the blurb from the book jacket above. I have to admit--I think this is a really great plot. I was hooked after reading descriptions and held off for awhile just because --ahem-- I don't really read fiction. Except now I do.

It's impossible to read the book and not wonder how I'd react if the same memory loss happened to me. I could even relate to the whole "passing out at the gym" scenario. Mary Beth did that just last year. I caught her as she crumpled to the floor (and if I hadn't broken her fall, the marble floor would have been unrelenting and a head injury was waiting to happen). Ambulances came. So, the book? Totally believable. 

I did wonder if I'd believe that a marriage could go from very, very happy to on the brink of divorce in the space of ten years. I mean, I know marriages do, in real life, all the time. But it begs the question: were they really happy or did they just think they were happy? Alice and Nick seem genuinely happy. As she comes to and becomes "young Alice," it's pretty clear she's head-over-heels. So what happened?

At one point, Alice's trainer reminds her that she once said her marriage fell apart over sleep (or the lack thereof). This idea is explored further, both for the good and the bad, in her memories of Nick. She remembers him sending her to bed when she was deliriously tired as a new mom. She's touched by the memory that he took the day off that day. But she also remembers far more days when she is left at home, burning both candles at all ends, while he is away at work. She is lonely and she is tired. Definitely not good over the longterm. Those bleary, sleep-deprived baby years take their toll. It's impossible for a woman to feel "all there" when she's operating on far too little sleep. So emotions and communications get jumbled and misinterpreted at best. And when fatigue is coupled with loneliness in marriage, it's a minefield fully loaded.  Is this striking a chord with anyone? 

I think the most telling moment of the whole lonely-tired theme is when Alice remembers the year of the Goodman project. She remembers Nick was never home. "Even when he was talking to her, he was still thinking about the office."  When Nick remembers the Goodman project he remembers that it's the project that made his career. No doubt, he missed home. He was building HOME.--supporting a family, providing increasingly well. Alice is astonished the first time she sees her house after the injury. Everything on their wish and dream list has been done. She has a lovely home. A lovely lonely home. I once heard that the hardest years on a marriage are the school-age years. Women are exhausted by the demands of growing children and men are torn away by the call of growing careers. No doubt, there are women growing careers and men caring for children, too, in many marriages. And no doubt that just makes the strain harder. The young Alice is much more empathetic towards the strains Nick surely experienced; she appreciates the hard work he's evidently done. The older Alice, I think, is worn down by the dailiness of it all (and maybe a little poisoned by Gina's perceptions.) Certainly, the lonely-tired thing played a big part in the growing apart. But how could that have been different? What would have made them grow closer instead of further apart?

 I think maybe Gina played a bigger part than even fatigue. In her loneliness, Alice forged a bond with Gina. She looked to Gina for leadership. She let Gina steer her ship and shape her into an image of, well, Gina. Without Gina, I think Alice would have been compelled to continue to seek Nick for conversation and emotional support and to share with Nick the little nuances of heart as she grew into her role as a mature mother. With Gina (who might have actually been jealous of Alice and Nick), Alice sought companionship across the street and stopped looking to her husband. Alice strikes me as really sensitive (at least the young Alice was). Nick accused her of confusing their relationship with Gina's and Mike's, specifically of seeing in him the same faults Gina saw in Mike. Her sensitivity, often a very good thing, primed her to identify too closely with her friend. It's all very believable. The cautionary tale is in big, bold letters: be very, very careful when you entrust your heart to a girlfriend.

That girlfriend should make you a better person. She should encourage you to be a better wife. If not, don't get too close... Don't get close at all. How should women balance their friendships--especially with close confidantes--and their marriages? Should they reserve some things solely for their husbands? Should they be sure to tell their girlfriends all the trivial details of the day, lest they burden husbands with the mundane? What about couples' friendships? In the beginning, Mike and Gina were good friends with Alice and Nick. What makes a good couples' friendship? How do we cultivate those?

Alice's complete amnesia regarding her children is fascinating. I can't imagine that part. I can't imagine touching the c-section scar and not remembering the fear and the relief that came with it. I can't imagine looking at a ten-year-old, knowing she was everything you ever wanted and not knowing at all who she was. I think her children were thrilled with the young Alice, having grown a bit weary of the nearly-40 Alice. I kind of think my children would very much like to get to know 29-year-old me. Especially my little girls. I'm pretty old for a little girl mom. I got all the way to thirty, with three little boys and baby on the way, without ever raising my voice. True story. Sometimes, I think that, like Alice, there was much more to like in the younger version of me. What about you? What would your kids notice if they woke up tomorrow and you were the person that you were ten years ago? Good thing or bad? 

I could go on forever, but I want to hear what you're thinking. One last thing, though: Before her memory returns,  Alice asks Nick to tell what his happiest memories of the last ten years are. He doesn't get much past the birth of their children (and actually, it was the hours after birth and not the births themselves that he remembers fondly). He has lots of sad memories for her, though. It's as if the balance sheet is very askew. But the young Alice (living in the old Alice's body and bewildered at how it all is turning out) holds tightly to the littlest happy things. She has an appreciation for them. More than that, she's willing to invest in them and build on them. I asked those questions of my husband when I was reading the book. His answers sort of surprised me. We had the same sad memory, but we've lived it out very differently this year. And the happy ones were different. Something to ponder.

And I haven't each touched upon Frannie's story and Elisabeth's. It's your turn. What about you? What parts of this book just beg to be discussed?