Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Book Review: What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

Alice fell and hit her head, hard, at the gym. Except that Alice doesn't go to the gym. And why does her friend Jane suddenly look so... old? And why isn't Jane worried that her fall might have hurt her pregnancy - after all this is Alice's first child.

But it isn't. Alice isn't pregnant. She does go to the gym, religiously. She has three children. She hit her head harder than she thought. Because she thinks it's 1998 and she's 29, when it's actually 2008 and she's 39. And no, her darling husband, Nick, isn't going to rush to her side at the hospital because they're divorcing.

What would you do if you woke up tomorrow and it was 2022 instead of 2012? How would your life be different? How would you adjust? What if your 2002 you showed up in your life today - what would she think of how things have turned out? The decisions you've made?

Sure, Alice is happy to suddenly find her abs ripped and flat as a washboard but her friends seem annoying, her sister Elisabeth cold and distant, her children baffling, and her divorce unfathomable. What has gone so horribly wrong in her life and how can she fix it? Notwithstanding the gorgeous house, yummy mummy body, impeccable clothing, some things Alice just can't understand. Not know when (or even if) she'll get her memory back, she needs to learn quickly how to deal with her children, her mother's remarriage, her soured relationships with Nick and Elisabeth, and find out how she got to here from there.

It is fascinating to see how a younger, more innocent Alice deals with overwhelming wrenches hurled at her repeatedly (inevitable when three children you don't remember are dumped in your lap and you don't even know their names!) With more patience, less baggage, and a better perspective, she does a lot of things differently than she used to. But as her husband Nick keeps telling her, when she remembers, things will be different. As she pieces together the clues, tied somehow to her disappeared best friend for the last decade, Gina, she starts to marry the old and new together. Will the result be worse, for her lack of experience, or better for her optimism?

I found the situations pretty realistic and understandable. I was expecting something a bit more lightweight - I frequently found myself discussing the book and thinking about the questions it raised. It made me appreciate my boyfriend (wow, the scene when Alice first talks to her estranged husband after the accident was chilling), and made me think about decisions I've made. There were a couple of places where I was a little frustrated that her family weren't telling her what exactly happened with Gina though it made sense for sake of the plot and pacing. The characters were well-drawn, the conflicts completely believable, and there was a little kookiness (particularly on the part of Alice's mother and father-in-law) to add in a little fun and levity. The children were also three-dimensional and believable, and I felt both like I know the 2008 Alice - I know so many over-achieving soccer Moms like her, and yet I felt sad for her in some ways. I thought the way the author worked out the ending was fairly clever. Without giving too much away, it makes sense that no matter what happened, Alice would have to try to merge the "old" and "new" Alices to some extent - even when/if she got her memory back, that wouldn't make everything go back to the way it was, because she would have the memories of how her younger self had viewed her life and her decisions and the perspective.

This would be a terrific book club book! There's so much to discuss and ponder. It's well-written and I couldn't put it down. I found myself thinking about it all throughout the day and anxious to pick it back up again. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I bought this book at a Borders going out of business sale.


Cath said...

I loved this book; I think all of Moriarty's books show that things usually called "chick lit" can be so much more. Have you read Three Wishes and The Last Anniversary? I highly recommend both!

Unknown said...

This sounds awesome! Kind of like a grown-up version of 13 Going on 30 :) Wish I could read it with a book club!

Jenny said...

I've heard so many other great things about this too! I've been meaning to read this... I have it and am always super excited whenever I see another review, LOL. I like that it's a serious book but there's more light hearted parts to it as well.

Booksnyc said...

great review! This book has a very interesting premise.