Joanna Luloff’s Remind Me Again What Happened is easy to get lost in. Lost in a good way, the kind of way where you can’t put down a book and you think about it for days after you finish it. Not lost in a bad way, like the way Claire, the character on whom the story is centered, gets lost in her mind when she contracts Japanese encephalitis and loses much of her memory and ability to remember anything at all.
Claire is a woman on the go, a writer for the AP who chases stories from New England to India, when she falls ill. The medical mystery is eventually resolved when her estranged husband Charlie tells doctors that she was in India and they make a diagnosis that explains her memory loss, her seizures, and her lack of fine motor skills. It’s a predictably crushing blow for Claire, who remembers just enough to know that she does not like to stay home in rural Vermont and be looked after like a toddler.
That is her life, with Charlie being joined by their mutual graduate school friend Rachel in looking after Claire to be sure she takes her medication and doesn’t get lost or hurt by herself. Herein lies a twist I didn’t expect and one that has moments of… working just a bit too hard to be a twist in a story that may not have needed one.
Rachel dated Charlie for a year when she studied abroad in England. Rachel was still dating Charlie when she introduced him to Claire. And she was dating him the first time he kissed Claire. Meant to bring tension to the narrative, it works at the same time it doesn’t quite.
Needless to say, the three of them – really the only three characters in the novel – are each on edge for the entire span of the story. It is clear that they love each other but nobody seems to get just the right love that they need from the others.
And it’s because of the secrets they keep. The secrets Charlie thinks Claire is keeping. The secrets Rachel keeps from Charlie. The secrets Claire wishes she could keep, and the ones she wishes her mind didn’t keep from her.
It’s a toxic story, really, always on the edge of erupting in a micro-world that very much does not need eruptions.
One of the most compelling parts of Luloff’s novel are the questions that are asked and never answered. She could have answered them, made it all clear as day, but that wouldn’t have been reality with Claire’s medical condition. So we don’t know if, as Charlie suspects, Claire remembers more than she says. We don’t know if, as Claire suspects, Charlie was having an affair with someone from his work. We don’t know if, as Rachel suspects, Claire could be happy with Charlie or with her but never with the three of them in the same place. Those unknowns give the reader something to think about, a way to put themselves into the story and feel like a part of it.
There is no cut and dry happy ending for Claire, her husband, and her friend. Rachel and Charlie act on behalf of themselves, things people with full ability always do, and that’s fine. But what is so great about Remind Me Again What Happened is that Claire claims her life again, chooses the path she wants to follow, no matter how hard it is. Charlie and Rachel are left to let her do it or go away. As the reader, fourth person in the story, I am so proud of Claire!
The premise for this book seemed a little strange at first and I was a little skeptical but it absolutely works. The imperfections in the characters who previously let themselves be controlled by the one who loses all control is stark and illuminating. That, without control of even herself, she is able to choose what life to lead is a perfect poetic ending.
*****I received a copy of Remind Me Again What Happened from NetGalley and Algonquin Books in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.*****