After hitting her head on the gym floor during step aerobics, cheese is what Alice is thinking about. The pounding headache registers too, but then it’s back to cheese. No soft cheese. Alice is pregnant with her first child, thus no soft cheese. She adores her husband Nick, considers her sister Elisabeth her best friend (consulting her on almost everything) and is an overall open, positive, happy twenty-nine-year-old. But as reality continues to don on her, Alice can’t remember attending Friday Step Class or the clothes she’s wearing and why there’s a dinosaur sticker on her tank. Shockingly, it’s not 1998, it’s 2008, and Alice is about to turn forty, has three kids, and is going through a divorce. The more Alice learns about the snippy, snotty woman she’s become the less she likes her. When the decade of memories comes crashing back will she go back to the way she was before or will she be able to change her present future?
While I was reflecting upon What Alice Forgot it’s hard not to imagine what forgetting the last ten years of my life would be like. I would like to think there would be more good than bad lost by becoming a much younger and inexperienced me but maybe that wouldn’t be the case. The intriguing premise is brilliant for being both an original twist on the traditional amnesia story and in its realistic execution. Whether you’re a man or a woman or married with kids or single, Alice’s memory loss and its resultant effects on her life are so authentically portrayed that anyone can connect to it. I had no idea that it would resonate so deeply with me personally and that it has resonated in different ways just as strongly for other readers. It’s not just that Alice has forgotten the minor and major events of her life – everyone’s opinions, outlooks, and personalities change with age. Consequently Alice is literally a different person, which is perhaps more problematic than not knowing the names of her children or the reasons behind her divorce. Her sister, her husband, her children, and her friends can’t anticipate how the new Alice will respond to what used to be her everyday routine. I love this version of a second chance and how Alice takes advantage of the time without her memories to store up new memories of how she loved Nick and how close her relationship with Elisabeth used to be. This quote of Alice seeing her life from the perspective of pre and post-children particularly rang true for me:
There just wasn’t enough time in 2008. It had become a limited resource. Back in 1998, the days were so much more spacious. When she woke up in the morning the day rolled out in front of her like a long hallway for her to meander down, lingering over the best parts. Days were so stingy now. Mean slivers of time. Time flew by like speeding cars. Whoosh! When she was pulling back the sheets to hop into bed each night, it felt like only seconds ago that she’d been throwing them off to get up.
Doesn’t Liane Moriarty have a way with words? So many times I was struck at how accurately and meaningfully she articulates Alice’s emotions. It was obvious that I had a newborn earlier this year when I read the memories of sleepless Alice after the birth of the Sultana and Nick taking over the night feedings for just one night being her fondest dream come true. It wasn’t just Alice to whom I strongly related but also her sister Elisabeth. The chapters alternate between Alice, her grandmother’s blog, and her sister Elisabeth’s therapy journal. Whether or not you’ve known someone with infertility or experienced it yourself Elisabeth’s view is spot-on. There is so much of the unexpected in life and I love how this demonstrated how much you are a product of both circumstances and choices. Although it takes Alice awhile to completely regain her memory I was interested in her and the curious and inexplicable way the mind works from the first page. While I suspected how What Alice Forgot might end I was nonetheless surprised and contented in the resolution. For fans of sweet epilogues (one of the best I’ve read) and those who like thoughtful chick lit with bite.