William G. Tapply’s novel Gray Ghost is a quiet meditation on the art of living simply, wrapped in a very simple mystery package. The Stoney Calhoun character is a fellow who just wants to live in his cabin in the woods with only his dog as company (with the exception of an occasional visit from his lady friend) and guide fishing trips in the waters around his home in Maine. The funny thing is, Calhoun knows how to do things like examine a witness or thwart an attacker–skills he has no idea how he came by because he lost all memory after a lightening attack several years ago. Someone else in very keen to find out what he knows–a mysterious visitor known only as The Man in the Suit. He probes and grills Calhoun to determine if he has remembered anything significant. Against this backdrop, the charred remains of a mutilated man is discovered on Quarantine Island–a small smudge of land with a haunted past. Calhoun, against his will, is dragged into the investigation. Eventually, the danger lands on his doorstep, literally. The murder mystery plot is not overly complicated because the beauty of this book is the description of Calhoun’s simple life and struggle to keep it that way amidst modern demands and complicated relationships. The description of nature and the author’s deep understanding of fly fishing adds interest and atmosphere. It is a quiet read with some disturbing twists and turns. The Gray Ghost of the title refers to both a fly fishing lure and a reference to the nuns who haunt Quarantine Island.
Tag Archives: amnesia
The newest YA novel by E. Lockhart, We Were Liars, follows the narrative of a young girl, Cadence Sinclair Eastman, from a privileged family who spends every summer on a private island off of Massachusetts with her cousins and one very special boy. The summer of her fifteenth year something terrible happens which leaves her with memory loss, debilitating headaches, and the urge to give away all her possessions. Returning to the island for a brief stay two years later, she tries to uncover what happened. (None of the family members will talk about it.) Through her scattered and unreliable recollections, we piece together the image of a highly dysfunctional family torn apart by greed, prejudice, jealousy. The perfect veneer of the powerful Sinclair family is ripped away to reveal their true poverty of spirit, Cadence included. The horrible accident which occurred the fifteenth year is the culmination of Cadence’s attempt to right her perception of the wrongs. The author, Lockhart, does an interesting job using the voice of her main character in an almost poetic narrative prose to describe the people and events. She does an outstanding job giving us glimpses and hints as to the character of the adults in the book, whereas the portrayal of the teenaged friends/cousins is less subtle. Sometimes it works, sometimes it feels too forced and precocious for the voice of the young teen. Overall, the book was very readable, the story engaging (although I did figure out the twist miles before the big reveal), but I would say the ending is unsatisfactory. It goes out with a little puff after such emotional fireworks that precedes it.
Memories are funny things. Ask any two people about an event, especially a family history-related one , and you are sure to get two very different versions. It is one reason why witnesses are so unreliable–everyone remembers things through their own particular lens. Memories are also part of our definition of character–who we think we are. That is perhaps one reason why fiction, which deals with memory, is so compelling and so popular. Now, take that ability to recall events and corrupt it, and what you get is “amnesia fiction.” A hero or character in the novel has no ability or only an impaired capability to recall past events, even their own past history, and you have the bones of a great mystery, thriller, or even romance. The novel by S.J. Watson, “Before I Go to Sleep,” portrays a woman who awakens each and every morning without any memory of the previous day, as well as most of her past for the last twenty years. She awakens next to her poor, long-suffering husband, who each morning has to re-introduce himself to keep her from panicking, let alone to explain the situation. Then the story gets interesting. As we peel the onion and find out more and more about the woman, Christine, we start to see inconsistencies. The husband, Ben, seems to thwart her attempts to get better, to regain her memory, and thus she starts to hide things from him, which is difficult, since she can’t remember from one day to the next what she did or what she said. (Sadly, that sounds familiar to me somehow. But, back to the story…) Since it is told from Christine’s point of view, the author was faced with the challenge of having to move the story forward, but at the same time fill in for the reader the background events, all using a main character who cannot remember anything. Watson accomplishes this with the use of the character’s journal keeping, and by Christine herself refreshing her memory with what she has learned from day to day through reviewing her journal. Although the author is amazingly adept at keeping it all straight (which must have been quite a feat), I found as a reader that it became a bit tedious by around page 150. The pace of the novel initially was too slow and I became increasingly frustrated with Christine…why didn’t she just get on the computer and google herself? Why didn’t she confront her husband and demand to meet and talk with friends or family? Why did she accept what she was told without question, when she had her doubts? Sadly, the more information is revealed about Christine, the more I disliked her. This is a problem for a novel. She seemed in turn passive and a doormat, and then suddenly emotionally overwrought and irrational, all without believable provocation. The story is written by a male author from a woman’s point of view, and it seems he missed the mark and portrayed what he thought a woman would be thinking and feeling. It didn’t work for this reader. (Sorry, another thumbs down!) Then, I began to dislike the husband, who was a by turns controlling or obsequious. When the action really starts to unfold, and incongruities mount, lending an air of suspicion to everyone around poor Christine (who is lying, and who is telling her the truth?) , I am afraid I just did not really care much what happened to her. The story is a compelling concept, a frightening situation, and would have been truly terrifying in the hands of a more skilled writer. It wan’t long before I figured out who the real villain was in the story ( but I wont spoil it for you). Believe the book is also soon to be made into a film.
Another work of “amnesia fiction” is a classic translated from Japanese called “The Professor and the Housekeeper” by Y. Ogawa. In this story, the amnesia victim, a brilliant mathematics professor, who can only remember things for about eighty minutes, challenging his young housekeeper and son with taking care of him. Even though these two people must be introduced to the professor anew, a unique relationship forms. The mathematical mind of the professor plays a large role in shaping this relationship, bringing unique insights to the housekeeper and son. What Amazon reviewer said about the book, “The Housekeeper and the Professor is an enchanting story about what it means to live in the present, and about the curious equations that can create a family.” Try this one for an amnesia story with a lyrical, poetic twist.
There are dozens of stories out there having to do with memories, and the devastating effect of losing them. Merely search on “amnesia fiction” to find a list so varied, it could satisfy all types of readers’ desires.