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Memorial: A Novel

Memorial: A Novel

by Bruce Wagner


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In Memorial, acclaimed author Bruce Wagner offers his most extraordinary and affecting book to date — a profound story of family and faith, and a masterpiece of American fiction.

Joan Herlihy, a young architect desperate to win the commission for a highly coveted Tsunami memorial, has a secret with life-changing consequences. Her brother Chester is keeping secrets as well: he's become addicted to Internet-prescribed painkillers after being injured on a "reality" show. Their estranged father lives nearby — happy for the first time in his life, Raymond's carefully laid plans for retirement and a second marriage are thrown into shocking disarray when the police break into his apartment in a botched raid. Through it all, Marjorie Herlihy, the lonely, indomitable matriarch, falls prey to a dizzying confidence scheme that will test her powers of survival. Wagner's searing portrait of an old woman trying to save her family and live out her dreams is among the most tender and savage in contemporary literature.

Deeply compassionate and violently irreverent, Memorial is a testament to forgiveness, and the majestic struggle toward transcendence — a luminous tribute to spirituality in the twenty-first century.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743272360
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 09/25/2007
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 528
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.44(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Bruce Wagner is the author of The Chrysanthemum Palace (a PEN Faulkner fiction award finalist); Still Holding; I'll Let You Go (a PEN USA fiction award finalist); I'm Losing You; and Force Majeure. He lives in Los Angeles.

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37 now but thinks of herself as 40, to soften the coming blow. "Then," the litany goes, "I'll be 50 — a woman in her 50s." "Then I'll be 63." "Then 70. Then 76, 77." "Then I will be 81 — 83." She doesn't go so far as to muse upon a future place of residence or quality of caretakers, shuddering when she passes assisted living homes, extended care America, thinking of her mom, but is certain of one thing, that she will be alone: all the while feeling those ages to be just round the corner, come in a blink, knowing intellectually re the fleetingness of time that there were many celebrated men and women, avatars, essayists, and intellects who could back her subjective notions with hard text or admirably glib spiritual pronouncement. Easy to evoke, even during mundane daytime chores, those philosophical flights of grad school days gone by, wild and romantically jagged cerebral nights. Stanford semiotics, string theory and such, rhapsodically sprayed like Halloween gunk on the trees and bushes of verbiage, space and time — collapse of reason and rationale like so many symphonies pounded to the size of the head of a pin, Gödel, Escher, Bach, so be it. Wasn't that the dream of this life?

She'd been having a specific dream-within-the-dream for over a year now, as if her mind, that great computer, were searching for a lost j-peg: the Perfect Memorial file. In a nocturnal reverie she called the Castle of Perseverance, details of the catastrophe were vague and illegible, as 10-minute-old skywriting on a still summer's day or the half-erased chalkmarks of simple equations upon green slate. Joan floated there too, billowy charcoal housecoat open like the commodious wings of that tree-flying squirrel she saw on a Discovery Channel doc, or a whimsical matron's smock in a children's book, and she could always just about make out the smokily verdant terrain below. The locus of the Event — "mound zero" is what one of her wittier lover-confidants called it — for which, in nondreaming life, her firm, ARK, had been hired to commemorate, the REM/Rem locus, as it turned out, was neither domestic nor international but hovered somewhere above, in a cottonball Canadian Christo-wrapped airspace 5 full skycrapers above. Sometimes a superstructure the firm had bid for and lost — there were a number of them, more than Barbet wanted to count — but one in particular, in China, seemed persistently to shanghai her nightworld, grafting failed CG skinsketch onto gauzy somnambulist constructions. In the dream, millions were to be memorialized, when the truth is ARK (10 years ago aptly, chicly named) had been hired by a billionaire whose brother and sister-in-law died near Chennai in the Christmas tsunami. The monument in Napa was to represent just the 2 of them, swept into a full-moon lake of mangroves, left hanging in trees like ornaments, though of course the design would have to be something beyond, as if representing all swampy, swami'd souls, because while the Northern California tribute was to sit on 400 obscenely private acres, it would become a well-known thing, famously endowed, famously elegiac. It had already been written about in the architectural trade and popular press, as if there was a difference between them anymore, and, if secured, would inevitably lead to other commissions. No doubt.

The jewel box site and predictably pending dumbass dustup over elitist venue mandated things be done just right. While Joan slept, ghosts of the battered, float-bloated dead wafted and moaned, debris-spun like dirty shredded cardboard Niagaran barrels, the hundreds of thousands never to be seen again deviously commingled with intransigent Katrina-killed old folks in attics (again she thought of Mother), wet silvery heads jammed into memorabilia-choked roofs with their rictus mouths, Pontchartrain floaters and bloaters and jokey FEMA hieroglyphs on sodden walls of Sumatran mud and Gentilly lace. Upon awakening, Joan became uneasy, as if somehow her ARK's desire and egoistic need to win said competition was unclean. It was the kind of dream, scrim of hallucinatory blowback, that sent her out for mocha latte in a daze, bypassing the stainless steel Impressa, wondering with embarrassment when she gave the barista her order if she'd actually forgotten to brush her teeth.

Copyright © 2006 by Bruce Wagner

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