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Thursday, December 30, 2010

You Lost Me There: Ah, Memories

The set-up for Rosecrans Baldwin's debut novel, You Lost Me There, is certainly intriguing. An Alzheimer researcher wrestles with his own rememories. But his problem is not that he's losing his memory. It's that he can't remember things accurately or definitively or with the same assignation of value as others. And this causes him quite a bit of consternation. Indeed, it nearly ruins his life.

Dr. Victor Aaron's wife Sara has been dead for several years -- perishing in a car crash soon after a reconciliation of their rocky marriage. To cope, Victor has lost himself in his research on a small island off the coast of Maine. When he finds some notecards Sara had written in therapy during a rough patch in their marriage, he's astounded to learn that what she had considered the signature events of their marriage, he can barely remember at all. "If two people have the same experience, but remember it differently, what does that say about their respective minds?" Victor wonders.

That's an easy one, isn't it? The answer is that respective minds are simply different; they see and experience the world differently. Not exactly earth-shattering, is it? But that's the idea Baldwin dwells on for the whole of the novel, and so, to me, the story didn't live up to the intrigue of its original set-up. Besides that reason, the novel fell a bit flat because Victor is such a dunderhead. He's humorless. He's a bore. And he's totally oblivious. Not good qualities for a protagonist, in my view. Furthermore, this novel finally made me understand the book reviewer cliche word "uneven." To emphasize the idea of the inconsistency of memories, Baldwin constantly jumps back and forth in his character's lives, often from paragraph to paragraph, between memories and real-time. The effect is that you're constantly a bit off balance trying to place the memories in some sort of chronology to construct a bigger picture of these characters' lives. Some clunky dialogue (Victor, confused, always asks "What are you talking about?") and some first-novel glitches (how does an early-20s girl who only brings a purple backpack for a summer stay suddenly have an evening gown and high heels?) also add to the sense of unevenness.

Finally, though, as Victor begins to slowly yank himself out of his malaise, helped along by some rather strange circumstances (a dream-like conversation with his dead wife, i.e.), the novel does gain some momentum and becomes a bit more fun. There are some very well-rendered and affecting final scenes which don't altogether save the novel, but do show Baldwin's promise as a writer.

To sum up what I consider to be about a three-star novel, it'd be really easy to make a joke like "No, Mr. Baldwin, you actually lost ME there," but I won't. (even though I just did...Did you laugh? No? Damn.) This definitely wasn't my favorite book ever, but I'd say if you're interested in getting in on the ground floor of a writer from whom you'll surely hear, I'd recommend You Lost Me There for that reason.

5 comments:

  1. I had the same experience with this novel - I, too, thought the premise was brilliant (two different perspectives of the same event) but the execution was lacking as if the author got lost himself in all these side roads which were not nearly as interesting.

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  2. I think I'll skip this one. Thanks for a review that explains exactly why I should. Allow me to add a completely extraneous and unnecessary exclamation mark! Oh, Happy New Year! (That one was legitimate)....

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  3. i've been attracted to this book because i am pretty obsessed with the workings of memory...but sounds like one i should off on till i can get it at the library.

    as a sidenote, i never leave home without an evening gown somewhere about my person, should a need for one arise.

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  4. Too bad this one didn't live up to the premise, but I do like discovering new writers, so given your recommendation on that basis, I think I will give this one a go.

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  5. pbert - Yeah, the whole thing had a lot of potential, but it seemed like Baldwin launched too many balls in the air and couldn't control them all. Good effort, though - definitely be interested in his next novel!

    @bibliophiliac - Thanks - and Happy New Year to you, too!

    @Ellen - Ha, thanks for clarifying the evening gown. That character, though, is an early-20s, proudly bohemian woman for whom wearing an evening gown at all is slightly out of character...much less bringing one along for a summer vacation. Maybe it's possible, it just struck me as strange.

    @TheBookGirl - Yeah, Baldwin is clearly a up-and-coming star. It'd be worth reading this one just to comparing it to next and noting what I'm sure will be much improvement!

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