The Story of Forgetting

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Overview

Abel Haggard is an elderly hunchback who haunts the remnants of his family's farm in the encroaching shadow of the Dallas suburbs, adrift in recollections of those he loved and lost long ago. As a young man, he believed himself to be "the one person too many"; now he is all that remains. Hundreds of miles to the south, in Austin, Seth Waller is a teenage "Master of Nothingness"—a prime specimen of that gangly, pimple-rashed, too-smart breed of adolescent that vanishes in a puff of sarcasm at the slightest threat ...

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Story of Forgetting

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Overview

Abel Haggard is an elderly hunchback who haunts the remnants of his family's farm in the encroaching shadow of the Dallas suburbs, adrift in recollections of those he loved and lost long ago. As a young man, he believed himself to be "the one person too many"; now he is all that remains. Hundreds of miles to the south, in Austin, Seth Waller is a teenage "Master of Nothingness"—a prime specimen of that gangly, pimple-rashed, too-smart breed of adolescent that vanishes in a puff of sarcasm at the slightest threat of human contact. When his mother is diagnosed with a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer's, Seth sets out on a quest to find her lost relatives and to conduct an "empirical investigation" that will uncover the truth of her genetic history. Though neither knows of the other's existence, Abel and Seth are linked by a dual legacy: the disease that destroys the memories of those they love, and the story of Isidora—an edenic fantasy world free from the sorrows of remembrance, a land without memory where nothing is ever possessed, so nothing can be lost.

Through the fusion of myth, science, and storytelling, this novel offers a dazzling illumination of the hard-learned truth that only through the loss of what we consider precious can we understand the value of what remains.

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  • The Story of Forgetting
    The Story of Forgetting  

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Compulsive and transporting" —-Publishers Weekly Starred Review
Janet Maslin
Mr. Block has found an unusually roundabout, fanciful way of telling the story of one family's genetic destiny. And The Story of Forgetting does not confine its eccentricity to the distant past. Nothing about Mr. Block's narrative is predictable or even suitably bleak, given the nature of the illness he addresses. Early-onset Alzheimer's disease, made grimmer by the new scientific certitude of genetic testing, is at the heart of this emotional roller coaster of a novel…The Story of Forgetting is a fresh, beguiling novel in what is sure to be the rapidly expanding genre of Alzheimer's literature.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Patrick Lawlor reads the precocious Block's first novel with two markedly different voices for its two protagonists. The hunchbacked, memory-obsessed Abel Haggard is given a broad Southern accent that remains remarkably precise, considering its exaggerated pitch, and Seth Waller, the teenager trapped in an unhappy family, in search of an explanation for his mother's mysterious illness, receives a much flatter, less remarkable, even reading. Lawlor's technique swiftly and easily divides the book's two halves, but his Abel rapidly grows painful to listen to as he is too exaggerated to be much more than a stereotype. Sounding neither convincing nor mellifluous, Lawlor's Abel holds back this otherwise solid audiobook. A Random House hardcover (Reviews, Feb. 4). (July)

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School Library Journal

Adult/High School

This riveting novel features well-drawn characters engaged in the epic struggle of finding purpose and meaning in life. Early-onset/familial Alzheimer's disease (EOA) is the launching point for an exploration of memory and the human condition. Fifteen-year-old Seth and 70-year-old Abel alternate as sympathetic narrators of their family's stories. Although they don't meet until the end of the book, the connection between them becomes apparent early on. When Seth's mother is diagnosed with EOA, he assigns himself the task of learning all he can about the disease. Meanwhile, Abel reflects on his past, including his family's struggles with EOA, as he resists encroaching suburban sprawl and waits for the return of his long-gone daughter. The author effectively interweaves several writing styles: historical fiction (the imagined origins of the disease in a medieval English village and its subsequent spread to America); scientific inquiry (explanations of genetics and psychological studies of the brain); fantasy (tales of the mysterious land of Isidora, an alternate world known only to EOA families); Abel's reflective reminiscences; and Seth's coming-of-age in contemporary Texas. The narrators tell painful, funny, heartbreaking stories in authentic voices. An author's note indicates that the novel is semiautobiographical and provides resources for further information about the disease. In addition to being an excellent read, this book would be a wonderful supplement to a psychology class studying memory, or a biology class learning about genetics.-Sondra VanderPloeg, Colby-Sawyer College, New London, NH

Kirkus Reviews
Two men, generations apart, try to understand the mystery of Alzheimer's in 24-year-old Brooklyn-based author Block's debut novel. How do individuals make sense of a disease that robs loved ones of their memories and, ultimately, of life? That's the question facing Seth Walker, a smart and sensitive teenager who is trying to cope as his mother declines into a rare early-onset form of Alzheimer's. His father is no help, sinking into his own gin-soaked decline. Only the stories his mother told of the mythical land of Isidora seem to have any relevance, depicting a land where the lack of memory is a blessing and all live in the constant presence of perfect happiness. Those stories are shared by another loner, an elderly hunchback named Abel Haggard, who also heard them from his mother. Abel, whose losses are physical, lives on the shrinking remnants of his family farm. A full life, he feels, has been denied him because of his handicap. His adored, physically fit twin, Paul, came back from the Army emotionally impaired by tragedy. And while the love of his life, Paul's wife Mae, briefly returned his passions, she too withdrew, overcome by guilt. He has even lost his daughter, Jamie, who has fled to New York City. Although only ever acknowledged as Jamie's uncle, Abel helped raise the girl, teaching her to read and, in the process, telling her the stories of Isidora. While the connection between these two stories becomes obvious early on, what makes this novel special is Block's grasp of the emotional devastation wrought by Alzheimer's. For family members, the disease presents a mystifying withdrawal, "a full reversal of a life," as a known, loved individual slips away. Rather than beingsaccharine, the shared sweetness of the Isidora stories, interspersed between chapters as we learn of their roots, highlight the melancholy that must accompany even the closest bonds once this disease has struck. A sensitive fictional interpretation of family tragedy. Agent: Bill Clegg/William Morris Agency
The Barnes & Noble Review
In the practical use of our intellect, forgetting is as important a function as recollecting, the psychologist and philosopher William James has written. James meant that we need to be able to select out important detail from irrelevant, lest our minds be cluttered with useless information. In a more general sense, we consider a certain amount of amnesia a necessary and productive thing. Who can move forward if they are mired in the past, nursing old wounds and focusing on their failures? In his brilliantly audacious debut novel, Stefan Merrill Block imagines characters on opposite ends of this spectrum -- some crippled by their inability to forget, others entering into the childlike bliss of unknowing, because they suffer from a rare disease known as early-onset Alzheimer's.

This unique illness, given a fictional genetic variant called EOA-23 in Block's telling, causes men and women as young as 30 to begin losing their memory. The decline is part of a more general disintegration, which comes to affect the entire body. As the 15-year-old Seth reads in a medical book, after learning that his mother, Jamie, has been diagnosed, "it's not just memories that people with my mom's disease forget but, increasingly basic things. How to write, how to speak, how to walk, how to sit up, how to swallow, how to breathe, and -- eventually, after five to seven years -- how to stay alive." Seth, a bright but socially inept boy who always believed he would grow up to be a scientist, decides that he must learn everything he can about the disease and which of his ancestors were afflicted with it, in part to determine whether he himself will succumb to it. Seth is hampered in this quest by Jamie's long-standing refusal to divulge any information about her past, even her maiden name. "My life started when you were born," is all she will reveal to her frustrated son.

Jamie and Seth live in a suburb of Austin, but when the novel first opens it is a different world the reader is thrust into -- that of an old, humpbacked man named Abel, marooned on a farm outside Dallas. Abel eats only what he can grow on his ten-acre estate and rides a spindly horse named Iona down paved streets cluttered with McMansions. Abel is a holdout, pestered by his neighbors with letters containing phrases such as "eminent domain" and taunted by the local children, who dare each other to run up and touch his hump. In contrast to Jamie, Abel's problem is that he remembers too much; his days are passed in a ceaseless unwinding of a history he would like to forget. There is the daughter he fathered in secret with his brother Paul's wife and allowed to be raised as if she were Paul's child. (Paul's wife, Mae, was complicit in the deceit, because she was in love with Abel.) There is the fact that this daughter -- who soon comes to be Abel's only living family -- abandons him when she learns the truth about Paul, who was losing his memory at the time he and Mae were killed in a car crash. Abel refuses to leave his farm because he hopes that his daughter will one day return there, and the well-built suspense in Block's novel comes from the realization of how this yearning will intersect with Seth's mission.

Block employs a medley of voices in his book, including clinical sections in which Seth charts the progress of his research into EOA-23 (an entire page is taken up with a sequence of letters that constitute a genetic code, "the strange lexicon of nucleic acid") and wistful, fairy-tale interludes in which Jamie tells Seth about an imaginary place called Isidora, a land where "no one can remember anything." The stories of Isidora have been passed down through Jamie's family for generations, and though they initially summon a paradise of sorts, a place where "you always have whatever it is you need," as the novel progresses they become as twisted and entangled as Jamie's memory. Residents of the peaceful land go to war after a new arrival introduces the concept of sadness to them, a sadness that -- it is suggested -- occurs because of the ability to remember. The effect of putting such different voices in conjunction is that it demonstrates the contrasting ways memory can work. Block suggests that memory can be methodical and linear, as in the interviews Seth conducts with every EOA-23 sufferer he can locate in Texas, or it can function more like an associative web, whereby loosely linked themes and images recall similar ones. (Jamie's fanciful tales put one in the mind of the White Queen's remark to Alice, in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass: "It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.") In spite of their dissimilarity Block successfully unites these stories by the novel's end, in a reunion scene that shows how identity is both bound and freed by memory.

Block's prose is not without a few rough spots, as might be both anticipated and excused, in a debut of such intricacy. Although various clues suggest that he was born in the 1930s, Abel often speaks in a voice that sounds overly antiquated, almost 19th-century in style. He invokes biblical language that at times seems affected: "Sometimes, it is almost as if the mythos of Original Sin was purposefully recast on our little farm...my own hunchbacked, pilose body poorly cast" and at other times corny: "Into the endless oeuvre of the sacred number three, whose work spans from the Holy Trinity through Poseidon's trident to the three-bean salad, we added ourselves." There is at least one moment -- when Seth is able to gain online access to a confidential database, simply by clicking the word "admin" and guessing a password -- where the plot feels contrived.

But these are minor lapses in a story that is otherwise filled with inventiveness and beauty. Block's metaphors are particularly remarkable, for instance, when Abel's decaying white farmhouse is compared to "an old man's stubborn, final molar" and the chromosomal mutation that initiates EOA-23 is described as "a jacket's zipper pulled up too quickly in a frigid gust, which is only one or two teeth away from its original, intended configuration." Equally stunning is the succinct manner in which Block establishes Seth's teenage awkwardness by noting that he calls himself as a "Master of Nothingness." Seth then explains that "by Nothingness, I mean this: I could find a place in a classroom that was perhaps not the farthest to the back but was simply the place where I was least likely to be noticed." Near the story's end Seth registers the simultaneous joy and disappointment that sometimes occurs, when one finally experiences a longed-for event: "It was like watching a film version of a well-loved book, the excitement of seeing a thing that has existed only in your imagination suddenly materialized into reality, with the supplementary sadness that from that moment on you'll never be able to imagine it any way other than how it appeared before you."

A novelist faces a similar balancing act: seal off your book too completely, and there's no room for the reader to bring her own experiences to it; leave things too open-ended, and there's no sense of gratification and resolve. Block negotiates this dilemma expertly, with a story of a unique condition -- the loss of memory -- which manages to seem both moving and universal. --Andrea Walker

Andrea Walker is on the editorial staff of The New Yorker. Her reviews have appeared in Bookforum, The Hartford Courant, and the Times Literary Supplement.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400107179
  • Publisher: Tantor Media, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/28/2008
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged CD
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 6.50 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author


Stefan Merrill Block graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 2004. The Story of Forgetting is his first novel.

An AudioFile Earphones Award winner and Audie Award finalist, Patrick Lawlor is also an accomplished stage actor.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Abel

once, i fell in love with everything

I never found a way to fill all the silence. In the months that followed the great tragedy of my life, I sprang from my bed every morning, donned my five-pound, cork-soled boots and did a high-step from room to room, colliding with whatever I could. The silence meant absence and absence meant remembering, and so I made a racket. The rotting floorboards crying out when roused, the upholstered chairs thudding when upended, the plaster walls cracking when pummeled: small comforts when everywhere, always, the silence waited.

Over time, I learned to divide it into pieces. If, after breakfast, I found myself straining to hear my daughter’s voice in the yard, or my brother’s hobbled gait scraping down the hall, or Mae fiddling with the radio, I blamed it on the silence that had just collected before me, in my freshly emptied bowl of porridge, and then I chased it away, rattling the bowl’s innards with my spoon. Sometimes, from the room that once belonged to my brother and Mae, a particular kind of silence, more profound than the rest, began to seep out under the door, and I had to charge in, fists and feet swinging, to beat it into submission.

I may never have made peace with it, but over the years I began to recognize the possibilities that the silence afforded me. It was absolute. That was its horror but also its blessing. Into itself, the silence promised to absorb whatever I gave it: my delusions, my regrets, even the truth.

But still. Even if the words go straight from my mouth to oblivion, the fundamental truth of my life is so simple, the saying of it makes me feel so foolish I can hardly bear to say it at all:

I was in love with my brother’s wife.

But that is far from the story in its entirety. More accurately, I will say:

I once believed I cared more about my brother than any person still living, but I was wrong. I cared even more about the woman he married, the woman that my brother, at times, seemed hardly to care about at all.

Look at me. Still jealous, after all these years. Why should I have to compare who cared the most? Life isn’t a competition, is it, with the one who cares the most getting the most? The lethargic and the cynical can live in mansions. And here I’ve remained, left to silence in this place with walls that barely stand.

Did my brother love Mae? Perhaps, in his way, he loved her; I can’t say. She was his wife, and for him that was a simple enough answer. But did I love her? Yes. I loved things of hers that you would think unlovable. For example. I fell in love not only with her feet but also with her toes, misshapen from birth into two rows of adorable zigzags.

And not just that. I also fell in love with the sounds her feet made when they walked. Separately, I fell in love with the sound of her walking on dirt, and on wood, and in mud. These days, there is a young mailman who must have the same leg span as Mae. I know when my monthly issue of National Geographic or the latest offering of the Book-of-the-Month Club is about to drop through the slot because I suddenly find myself deeply, completely in love.

The time came when I knew I had to make a decision, or else I might do something severe. I devoted myself to watching Mae do the things that I thought would be the most repugnant to me. I asked myself, What makes a person most fall out of love? I decided the answer was obviously to see the person you love making love to someone else.

My brother’s room, which was once Mama’s room, was on the second floor. Outside is still the massive willow tree with long, leafy fingers that creep in and tickle your face if you sleep with the window open. And so, because that night I had fallen in love with something hypothetically impossible, the sound Mae’s stomach made when it moaned from too much food, I decided I had to climb that tree and watch the one thing that could make me instantly fall out of love.

Up in that willow, behind the leaves, I sat like a dirty old man, like the man I have perhaps become, waiting for something terrible. But instead, my brother and Mae did not even look at each other. They only crawled into their bed, each as far to either side as possible, and fell asleep. The next night, after I had fallen in love with the way Mae shucks corn, I climbed the tree again. Again, nothing came but sleep. For the next five days I fell in love with so much that I prayed they would finally make love, or else I didn’t know what. When Mae would pour my brother’s coffee after breakfast, her pouring a thing I had fallen in love with long before, I might suddenly stand from my chair and scream, “I’m in love with the way you pour!”

I had sworn to Mama long ago that I would never lose my mind when it came to love. But losing my mind was precisely what I was doing.

Five days passed, and still my brother and Mae had yet to use the bed for anything but its dullest purpose. On the sixth, I did something I knew to be unforgivable. But I thought that I could accomplish the act stealthily, that the shame of the thing would be mine alone. Or maybe I wasn’t really thinking at all. As I watched Mae sleep, her face to the window, me falling in love with the way the arch of her nose pressed into her pillow, I began to rub myself in that tree.

The next day, I walked the three miles into town, through some excuse, and when I came back I brought a dirty magazine, filled with detailed images of men and women wrapped up in each other, for my brother to look at. For inspiration. I claimed it was for me, which seemed natural since it had been so long since anyone had seen me with a woman. I left it in obvious places where I knew he would see it. For a time the fish didn’t bite; I knew that I would soon have no choice but to take drastic action. Just before dinner one night, after fifteen nights straight on which they had not made love, I saw that the magazine had disappeared from the little shelf near the door of the barn, which made me hopeful. But then, minutes later, I saw my brother sneak it back when he thought no one was watching. He had taken it with him to the outhouse, and so I knew my plan had backfired.

What else of Mae’s could I possibly find repulsive? But I had already tried everything. Once, when she had gone to the outhouse, I had peeked through a knot in the wood, watching her do her business, hoping that the most base things her body could produce would repel me. Instead, I only fell in love with the sounds she made and the way her tiny, elegant hands wiped. I was hopeless. I imagined awful things. I imagined ways to kill my brother that would look like accidents but would not be. I imagined kidnapping Mae in the middle of the night and then explaining why I had to do what I did. I imagined simply asking her if she had also fallen in love with anything of mine, and if so, maybe we could escape together.

But, then I would remember, it was hopeless. Who did I think I was? I wasn’t about to become the kind of person who can commit fratricide. And I certainly was no kidnapper. Then I thought, What do I really know Mae thinks of me?

Sitting one afternoon in the expansive stretch of our wheat field, where it seemed possible to convince yourself that all human problems were imaginary, that the whole of the earth was nothing more than a shaggy, endless khaki, I nevertheless found myself attempting to conjure potential evidence of Mae’s true feelings.

Years before, Paul had traveled to Dallas for great spans, sometimes entire weeks. Eventually, these trips came to an end when he returned, one evening, with Mae. That first night she sat next to me at supper. Trying to flatter Paul, every time she took a mouthful she would say “Mmmm,” her breath rushing from her nose and breezing the hairs of my arm. Three times, our knees touched. Once, for minutes.

I chided myself: What does that even mean? Sure. Perhaps, sometimes, as she rests a plate of food at the table, she leans heavily against my back, lingering. Perhaps, sometimes, she smiles at me in the conspiratorial way of a shared secret. Perhaps, sometimes, when we’re reading in the evening, she lies on the couch just so, kneading her toes into my thigh. But, no. To her I am just the pathetic, lonely brother. I am the lonesome, clinging third in what would otherwise be a normal marriage of two. I am the one person too many. And if I simply didn’t exist, everything would be easier. I am the person she perhaps has seen rubbing himself while watching her sleep. And, of course, my body still remains as it always has been. Still, I am the deformed hunchback, the way my right shoulder and my spine lock bones. Still, I am only cause for disgust.

Maybe I was exaggerating. Exaggerating in the way that a single, frustrated need can compress a life’s complexities and convolutions into a wildly simplified story, written in self-pity, of one’s own insufficiencies in a world populated by the sufficient. But I couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t help but trace the history of my sad lot back to its origin. I began to think of when Paul and I were still boys. We were twins. For a time there was no distinction between that which was the both of us and that which was uniquely me: the purest form of love either of us would perhaps ever know, a form to which my brother would one day return.

Sometime near our fifth birthday, my brother and I stepped together into a bath Mama had drawn. Suddenly, the earth rumbled, a great fissure cracked open, and my brother was separated from me for the rest of time. I had gazed at his body. And as I had done so, I had also begun to scrutinize my own. I had, for the first time, begun to take note of that which marked us as different. Most notably, of course, my hump. At some point, as my brother’s scapulae had parted with admirable, unfailing symmetry, mine had grown askew, a bony snarl, snaring my right arm like the dead limb of a trapped wolf, to be chewed away for the sake of freedom. My hump. A part of me was in unfortunate excess, perched there upon my shoulder, an excess that telegraphed my future paucity, the women and jobs and love and family that would be forever withheld from me. It wasn’t that I ever resented Paul. In ways, it was just the opposite. As the girls of High Plains flocked to Paul at the end of each school day, as Paul’s talents for baseball and sprinting grew into legend, as Paul’s sturdy, superior frame accomplished work on the farm with startling efficiency (tilling vast fields in a matter of days, bucking chicken feed by the ton, bearing fifteen gallons of milk, from the barn to the house, all at once), Paul was proof of what I would have been, if not for my shoulder blade’s poor sense of direction. A notion both heartening and tragic: all that stood between the seemingly boundless possibilities available to my brother and my own lonely lot was a two- pound obstruction of sinew and bone. A part of me was in excess; I tried to accept it, but secretly never stopped believing it a harbinger of a hidden talent to be revealed to me in the future, of a secret capability to possess at last something Paul could not, something that would be mine alone. Is the truth as dark and covetous as that? Is that why the only love of my life had to be my brother’s wife? Is it possible that my love for Mae was, in part, something other than love? Perhaps. But at the time, it was enough to say, I was in love.

I decided I had only two choices. The first was that I would kill myself, but I quickly understood that I couldn’t do it. As it turned out, I still wanted to live. I couldn’t even come up with a reasonable plan for suicide. The second, which was really the only choice I had, was to leave. To leave for any place but there.

It was the night before I would go. I had packed the things I would take and had explained to my brother and the woman I couldn’t bear to love as much as I did that I had to make my own life and stop being an intruder on theirs. This was as good a reason as any because it was also the truth. That night, with my last bit of hope, I climbed the willow one more time and watched my brother and Mae go about their sad, silent routine. Climbing into bed, turning their backs to each other, then falling asleep. As I unbuckled my pants and watched Mae’s face, I tried to imagine riding away in trains and buses and cars, being in big cities that looked nothing like where I was then. But instead what I imagined was that the thing that was in my hand was instead inside of Mae.

Eventually, I sighed and let go of myself. The thing slouched away like a miserable, malnourished creature all its own. I closed my eyes. I opened my eyes. I looked into the window. And then. Everything changed.

Mae stood from her bed, my brother still sleeping behind her. She came to the window, and at first I prayed that if I remained incredibly still she would not see me behind all those leaves. But she stared right at me. Would I have done something different if I hadn’t been leaving the next day? Perhaps. But I did what I did. I stared back.

Then, through the window, I watched her turn and leave, falling in love with the way she walked on her tiptoes. She crept out to the tree. I scrambled to buckle my pants back together. Then she was climbing, and I was falling in love with the way she climbed. I did not move. I was as still as the branches. And then. She was in front of me. There were so many words to say to her then, about all the things of hers that I loved. I couldn’t say anything. But Mae could.

“Abel,” Mae said. “Don’t leave.”

And then. She touched me, and I thought, Maybe I am not the one person too many after all.

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Reading Group Guide

1. The last words of the book are ". . . whatever she needed she had only to imagine." Why do you think the author chose to end the book this way? How is imagination a central and absolute necessity for the members of the Haggard family?

2. What is the relationship between the fables of Isidora and the rest of the book? How are situations, characters, and feelings from the lives of the Haggard family transformed in these fables? Why do you think that the Haggards maintain this storytelling tradition despite everything that they lose, forget, and abandon? What traditions do you keep that help maintain your own family's identity? How do your traditions relate to your family's history?

3. Comparing the Haggard family's two legacies–the EOA-23 gene and the stories of Isidora–the author writes:  "Two ideas, spontaneously improvised, altering in slight ways with each passage, yet remaining, fundamentally, themselves" (p. 175). In what other ways are these two inheritances similar? What is the relationship between them? In what ways are they different?

4. When Jamie leaves home, she leaves a letter for Abel that claims, "life here is no longer possible."  Do you think that if Abel hadn't told her the truth she would have been able to stay? Do you think that he was right to tell her?

5. In one of the Isidora fables, a group of elders wonder, "To remember nothing . . . what more could one possibly ask of eternity?" (p. 201) Despite the horrors of Alzheimer's disease, are there ways in which its most well-known symptom, memory loss, is liberating for some of the characters in this book? What do you think of the possibility of there being something positive, even blissful, in the oblivion of Alzheimer's disease? In certain instances, might it be better to forget?  

6. By the end of The Story of Forgetting, Jamie appears desperate to return to her childhood home. Do you think she would have still felt this need if she hadn't developed Alzheimer's disease? Was it only after she had forgotten the reasons she had left, and her guilt over abandoning Abel, that she could return? Do you think that eventually she would have returned anyway, even if her memory had not failed?

7. Why do you think that when Paul begins to develop Alzheimer's disease, he so quickly forgets who Abel is, replacing him with the memory of Jamie Whitman? Do you think there is a way that Paul's love for his brother remains intact, even after he has forgotten who Abel is?  

8. In "Genetic History, Part 3," the author, describing Paul's unceasing love for Jamie Whitman, asks if "Love . . . [is] strong enough to gird Memory, at least for a time, against Chance's inevitable progression" (p. 243). How is love stronger than memory loss in this book? How is it not?  Do you think one's love is made more or less valid if one forgets and confuses its conditions?

9. Have you ever known anyone with Alzheimer's disease? If so, how does the characterization of the disease in this book relate to your own experiences? How does this characterization relate to depictions you've come across in other books or films?

10. Why do you think Seth is so devoted to being a "Master of Nothingness"? Why does he want so badly to disappear?

11. Before Seth and Abel know of each other’s existence, they are already linked by their family's two legacies: the stories of Isidora and the devastation that the EOA-23 gene has wrought upon their loved ones. What else do Seth and Abel have in common? Might these similarities serve to hint, early in the book, that the two are part of the same family?

12. The Story of Forgetting is written in a number of voices, genres, and time periods. Why do you think that the author chose to tell the story this way? How does this style of writing relate to the themes of memory, storytelling, family, and the quest for understanding?

13. Reflecting upon his decision to tell his daughter the truth about his affair with Mae, Abel understands that "out of the possibility of my wrongness in that single moment, I would serve a lifetime of penitence, loneliness, and regret" (p. 264). Do you think that it is strictly guilt that compels Abel to spend twenty years as an antiquated, rural hermit? Do you think he really believed, twenty years after the fact, that his daughter would ever come back to him?

14. Why do you think Jamie was so insistent upon keeping the truth of her past from Seth? Was it simply because she didn't want him to know about his terrible genetic legacy? Did Jamie have other reasons to conceal her history?

15. If you were in Jamie's position, would you tell your child the truth of his family's genetic legacy, of the 50 percent chance that he has also inherited a devastating terminal disease? Might it be better for the child not to know the truth? If you were in Seth's position, aware of the possibility that you had inherited the gene, would you get tested for it?

16. Some of the Isidora fables seem to have a clear speaker, while others do not. Why do you think Block chose to make the authorship of these stories ambiguous? What is the effect?

17. How does the genetic history of the EOA-23 variant illuminate the story that takes place in the present tense of the book? How does the scientific details in these genetic-history chapters change your understanding of the book's characters and their conditions? When we discover that an older Seth is the author of these chapters, does it change the chapters’ meaning as they relate to the rest of the book?

18. What are the consequences of Seth's "Too-Smartness"? How do his arrogance and intelligence isolate him? How does he use his Too-Smartness to defend himself? How does he use it to help his family?

19. Near the end of Seth's "empirical investigation," Taylor Shafer asks Seth what it is that he is really "hoping to find out."  Seth realizes then that his delusions have kept him from "understanding the ridiculously simple answer to this ridiculously simple question" (p. 253). What is the "ridiculously simple answer"? Does Seth find what he is looking for?

20. Describing his mother's death by Alzheimer's disease, Abel says, "Her old soul had not so much vanished as eroded, worn away by a million rubs. I stopped praying" (p. 182). How does Alzheimer's disease complicate or obscure the concepts of death and self?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 2, 2012

    What can I say?

    I have EOAD and found me in so much of the writing. A very well written book that reaches a depth difficult for some to fathom. Love the book and hope others who read it find the beauty in life Stefan has revealed.

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  • Posted August 13, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Once, I fell in love with everything an author wrote...

    Once, I fell in love with everything an author wrote filling 310 pages with a story of a boy's search for peace, for comfort with the agony of losing his mother to early onset Alzheimer's, facing the frightening possibility that he will take after her, follow her in loss-of family, friends, memories, and self. The story of his struggle intersects with the story of a decrepit old man stuck slowly waiting his life away, refusing to forget, grasping on to his painfully beautiful memories-allowing them to be his hope against a weathered lonely reality in fast-changing surroundings.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2009

    this is what good writing is

    If Wally Lamb is coffee, Stefan Merrill Block is espresso. We're talking a cream of the crop writer. Fascinating, sad, encouraging, a bunch of ups and downs drawing an expansive and complex canvas of a book. I'll be on the lookout for his next book. This book is not for those looking for fluff. It is a satisfying experience to read this. Highly recommended for the right person willing to delve deep.

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  • Posted May 9, 2009

    A beautiful hunchback, a brainy kid, and the ties that bind

    This book won me over from the very start. Stefan Merrill Block creates a realistic and achingly beautiful picture of an old man, Abel, full of grief and regret, but ultimately full of love. A very different young boy, Seth, has his own grief, over his mother's early-onset Alzheimer's, and his own deep love for his mother. This sets Seth off on a quest to discover both more about his mother's disease and her history. The only real clue he has to both of these are the beautifully told Stories of Isidora--stories Abel also knows, even though the two have no knowledge of one another. The ways that Block brings these two characters together, and the discoveries made along the way, are told in a unique, almost lyrical style.
    One of my favorite books!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2008

    The Story of Forgetting is unforgettable!

    Hard to believe this novelist is a first-timer. He has a beauty of description and characters that are wonderfully real. This is NOT just a story of early onset Alzheimer's - if you're looking for a how-to book for family members of patients, this isn't the book for you. This is a carefully crafted work of fiction that deals with the disorder with as much lively imagination as Jeffrey Eugenides did when he wrote about intersexuality in 'Middlesex.' Stefan Merrill Block is a novelist to watch, and this novel is one to read. I originally picked it up at my local library, but loved it so much, I'm buying it. I need to have excellent books like this on my bookshelf to read again.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews

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