Story of Forgetting: A Novel

Story of Forgetting: A Novel

by Stefan Merrill Block

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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. Hundreds of miles to the south, in Austin, Seth Waller is a teenage “Master of Nothingness”—a prime specimen of that gangly 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 disease, Seth sets out on a quest to find her lost relatives and 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—a land without memory where nothing is ever possessed, so nothing can be lost.

Blending myth, science, and dazzling storytelling, Stefan Merrill Block’s extraordinary first novel illuminates the hard-learned truth that only through the loss of what we consider precious can we understand the value of what remains.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812979824
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/07/2009
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 1,337,176
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Stefan Merrill Block was born in 1982 and grew up in Plano, Texas. He graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 2004. The Story of Forgetting is his first novel. He lives in Brooklyn.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


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.

Reading Group Guide

1. The last words of The Story of Forgetting are “whatever she needed she had only to imagine.” Why do you think the author chose to end the book this way? In what ways is imagination essential for the book’s main characters?

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? What is the importance of this storytelling tradition to the Haggard family?

3. What traditions do you keep that help maintain your own family’s identity? How do your traditions relate to your family’s history?

4. In one of the Isidora fables, a group of elders wonders, “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? In certain instances, might it be better to forget?

5. 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? Or do you think that she would have tried to return eventually, even if her memory had not failed?

6. n the section titled “Genetic History, Part 4,” 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?

7. 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?

8. 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?

9. 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?

10. 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 a recluse? Do you think he really believed, twenty years after the fact, that his daughter would ever come back to him?

11. 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?

12. How does the genetic history of the EOA-23 variant illuminate the story that takes place in the present tense? How do the scientific details in these genetic-history chapters change your understanding of the book’s characters and their conditions?

13. Near the end of Seth’s “empirical investigation,” Taylor Shafer asks Seth what it is that he is “hoping to find out” (p. 252). 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?

14. 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 selfhood?

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Story of Forgetting 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 68 reviews.
DieFledermaus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a promising start for first time author Stefan Merrill Block. His smoothly written novel follows several storylines linked by familial early onset Alzheimer¿s. One thread describes the life of Abel Haggard, an old hermit living ascetically on the family lands. Another depicts the precariously unhappy teenager Seth Waller. Both are connected by a genetic disease, and other subplots follow its inception, from initial mutation down to multiple descendents. The mysterious land of Isidora, where everyone is happy and memory is absent, also links Abel and Seth. Both of the main plots were well-written, with a strong narrative point of view. Abel¿s story starts with the revelation that he was in love with his brother¿s wife, but that¿s not the end of the complicated tragedies that leave him bereft in his declining years. His memories of the past ¿ which he still tries to avoid ¿ alternate with his present existence, where the future of dull, suburban conformity begins to crowd in. In both threads, Block is skilled at evoking the Texas landscape through the developments around Abel¿s home and the suburbs that Seth travels through. Seth recalls his awkward school years as a nerdy nothing and his repressed pain from watching his mother descend into the fog of Alzheimer¿s. Some of the developments in Seth¿s life seem a bit clichéd ¿ his crush on an unattainable girl, who only shows interest in him when she wants help with her schoolwork ¿ but the character is always engaging. As his mother deteriorates, Seth deals with it by attempting to find others affected by the same variant of EOA. Seth and Abel are also connected through their status as outsiders ¿ Abel with his family (as the hunchbacked third wheel) and his neighbors (as the weird old man bringing down property values), and Seth also with his family (alienated from his father and mother, in different ways, due to the disease) and his classmates (for being weird). The Isidora stories provide a counterpoint to the realistic descriptions of the disease, and serve as a unifying thread for the afflicted families. Block also adds the beginning of the disease, using some interesting anthropomorphic descriptions of chance, chaos and DNA, then describes the initial sufferer. At first, his description of a man whose inability to remember anything, and is seen as something of a saint, along with mass hysteria and forgetting, approaches something like magic realism, which ties into the Isidora threads. But as soon as some of his descendents come to America and face unpleasant reality, that subplot more obviously creates connections with Abel and Seth¿s narratives. For a novel called The Story of Forgetting, memory and forgetting are appropriately found in all the different storylines. The obvious association is Alzheimer¿s and forgetting, which is, of course, shown to be devastating to both the individuals and their families. However, it is noted several times that the forgetting at least allows the person some relief from knowing the true extent of their own deterioration and the pain caused to the people they love. Other examples of forgetting similarly are shown to be double edged swords. Seth¿s father attempts to forget his wife¿s plight through avoidance, alcohol and TV, justifying it with the fact that she wouldn¿t even remember his visits. This is true, but it wreaks havoc on his relationship with his son and in the end, reality intrudes and proves it¿s not something he can forget. The creation of Isidora is revealed to be a type of forgetting, a soothing story for a painful truth. Even the stories of Isidora show ambivalence about forgetting. While at first it¿s presented as a paradise, an outsider brings discontent and war. With that sort of pain in their history, the Isidorans can no longer view memory as expendable ¿ though it is an unpleasant necessity. Abel has plenty of painful memories, but also some good ones. Early on, he describes his a
lauralkeet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When 15-year-old Seth Waller's mother shows undeniable signs of early onset Alzheimer's disease, he realizes how little he knows of his family history. His mother never talked about her childhood, not even her maiden name or the town she lived in. Seth never knew his grandparents, and never met any other relatives. He begins researching the disease, manages to get his hands on information identifying other patients near his Texas hometown, and tries to discover genetic links between these patients and his mother.Meanwhile, Abel Haggard lives a quiet, solitary life on a farm he has gradually sold off for new real estate development. Now in his 70s, Abel has lost everyone dear to him, including his twin brother and his brother's wife. Abel's family has also been touched by early onset Alzheimer's. Both Seth and Abel bring the reader into their world, to share the pain of living and dealing with Alzheimer's. Through Seth, you helplessly watch a parent's condition deteriorate, and you share Seth's fear of inheriting the condition. Abel knows he was spared, but like Seth he loved someone who left him far too young.The link between Seth and Abel is revealed to the reader before the characters discover it themselves. This adds an element of suspense or anticipation to the story, and an extra layer of depth and complexity. Stefan Block developed rich, memorable characters and showed particular sensitivity in his portrayal of older people and Alzheimer's sufferers, making for an impressive debut novel.
Dnorthup on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The subject matter of this novel was incredibly moving. I am always brought to the verge of tears when experiencing the heart break and despair that surrounds the lose of one's faculties and memories from Alzheimers and/or other mental illnesses. Block wrote a touching and warm tale of the impact this disease has on its victims and those people in their lives. Well done and deeply moving.
ninarucker on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I thought The Story of Forgetting was an interesting story and I enjoyed the plotlines, but I must say, the writing style was not my cup of tea. I thought is writing style was too simple and the story would've benefited more from a different writer.
cabegley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Story of Forgetting intercuts the first-person narratives of Abel Haggard, a 70-year-old hermit mourning the loss of his family, and Seth Waller, a 15-year-old outcast struggling to come to terms with his mother's early-onset Alzheimer's, along with a study of a fictitious strain of Alzheimer's and tales of the legendary land of Isadora, where no one has memories and everyone communicates through feelings. In a style reminiscent of Nicole Krauss's The History of Love and Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Block explores the themes of love and loss, remembrance and forgetting.Block's characters were well drawn and believable. The narratives of Abel and Seth were the strongest parts of the book. While the concept of the Isadora tales worked well, Block originally wrote those stories in college, and it shows.I find it hard to approach first novels without trepidation. So many show promise only to founder at the end, or fall into typical first-timer traps (like show-offy language, telegraphed plot points, or my least-favorite flaw of telling instead of showing) throughout. Mr. Block traversed the first-timer minefield beautifully, and brought his story to a satisfying (although not pat) conclusion. I look forward to future work by this author.
LibrarysCat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Block provides readers with an engaging story of two people searching for answers surrounding the genetically transmitted disease of early onset Alzheimer's disease. A young man is seeking answers from relatives he does not know exist to help his mother. An elderly man remembers too much and seeks his daughter. The two families find what they are seeking and the transformations which occur are sadly sweet. For a first novel, Block has done a wonderful job of providing the technical backdrop to the disease while engaging the reader with the characters. I read this book in only two days and recommend it for anyone who has questions about the disease or just wants an interesting read.
saskreader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am generally hesitant to read new books by first-time authors, which is why joining the Early Reviewers group was a big change for me. There are just gads and gads of new books out there and I have to admit that I rarely try a new book unless it has been recommended to me somehow. What a wonderful surprise for me to read The Story of Forgetting and enjoy it more than at least the last dozen or so books I have read!This is a wonderfully imagined story that I think of as neat and complete. From Abel's narration of the past to Seth's narration of the present, the story comes together at the end like a zipper...and like a DNA strand! I enjoyed the writing style, the differences in perspective, the subject matter. My grandfather died of Alzheimer's, and the descriptions of "the death of" this skill or that ability were exactly right.I will recommend this book to my book club once it is released.
MindfulOne on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I had some difficulty at the beginning of this story, in part because the voices of the main characters (Abel and Seth) sounded like one another, and the voice for Seth sounded unrealistic to me. Also, the types of adjectives used with nouns seemed too striving to me. For example, "caustic sweat." That's a little over the top to me. The story felt, at the beginning, more telling than showing. (If you've taken a fiction class, you know the emphasis is on showing the reader, not telling.) When the author reached the point of introducing the mother's illness, the story picked up its pace. I liked the intertwining of the character's fates and the back story about the nobleman in England where the gene mutation began. As for Isidora, that story resonated less with me. It was not clear to me how each segment connected with the subsequent chapter or section of the book. In any case, I finished the book. Parts of the story were interesting. Since I was too aware of the author's voice and because of the over-use of adjectives, I'll give this 3 stars.
Ecrivaine32 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Today I finished The Story of Forgetting, by Stefan Merrill Block (Review written December 2007).This is a beautiful debut novel, an epic story centered around generations of a family afflicted with Early Onset Alzheimer's.I usually select books when I feel I can personally relate to their subject matter. At first, since I'd never had any experience with the disease or known any family members who have, I thought it wouldn't interest me, at least not on such a deeper level.I couldn't have been more wrong. The story was more than a book centered around a disease that the majority of us (albeit, incorrectly) think we are familiar with. The Story of Forgetting is a patchwork of nuances -- memories found and memories lost, that connect those related by both blood ties and love.Despite my initial reservations, I discovered that the book spoke to me through a universal theme -- one of its main characters had attempted to forever escape her past. This left open the possibility that she would one day need to come full circle and return home. I had always considered the need to return to my home state of Alabama, to come to an understanding of my own past and the parts of it that haunt me. By choosing this seemingly unfamiliar book, I came face to face with my own inner thoughts.
terrybanker on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Conceptually, Alzheimer's is a disease that affects us all. So in applying the concept to fiction, an author cannot rely upon a general universality to market his book alone. From the very beginning, we have little understanding of who the protagonist is or what he stands for. All we know is that he covets. And without understanding why, we as readers, have no empathy for his situation. Thus, why should a reader turn the page? Assuming the writing is good enough to make us turn the page for a cad as a protagonist, the next element a reader needs is tension--a driving forward momentum, anchored in space and time that propels us to turn the page. The Story of Forgetting offers little to no tension, as it immediately retreats to backstory to explain why we, as humble readers, should allow the cad to continue doing the things he does. When an author makes this kind of error, however, he loses the driving force of what makes a book compelling. Relying upon a universal cause to attract readers is not a substitute for character, plot, and story. The author, Mr. Block, is young. He will be around for a while. The Story of Forgetting was not ready to be published, shame on Random House, but Mr. Block will be back, and he will be better. Don't give up on him. And Mr. Block, keep up your drive to write.
pandorabox82 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was an interesting portrayal of what life with early onset Alzheimer's disease is like. I wish that I could use more effusive words with this review, since I wanted to love this book. The concept was intriguing, the characters started out interesting, and the land of Isadora called to me. Yet, in the end, it felt like Block had to get to his ending, and the characters ran out of development. The length really was slight for a story that could have had such depth, and in the end, I was left wanting more from everything.
clamato on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Despite the decades between Seth and Abel, they are sympathetic narrators dealing with the loss of family and the devasting effects of early on-set Alzheimer's. Reclusive outcasts, they have hope for eventual answers. With elements of science, history and fantasy, a sad subject matter is compellingly handled and is a very satisfying debut. I look forward to future work from this very promising young author
xrayedgrl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this novel. I think that it is a beautiful story of two characters whose lives are bound to collide and yet they have no knowledge of one another. This book tackles the very real frustrations of families dealing with Alzheimer's. The fact that Alzheimer's is often a generational affliction and what that means to ones future and past.
anotherjennifer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Stefan Merrill Block's debut novel ambitiously explores the effect familial Alzheimer's has on one Texan family, revealing both the burdens and freedoms that result from the memory-devouring disease. The novel is a conglomeration of fictional narrative, fable, scientific fact, and historical fiction.When teenager Seth's mother is diagnosed with familial Alzheimer's, a form of the disease which will take her memory and her life much earlier than usual, he is determined to trace his family's roots in order to uncover all he can about his maternal relatives and the disease they carry. With little information about her past, Seth searches for other sufferers of the rare genetic malady--all of whom are related to each other, however distantly--in hopes of finding a close relative. The only other lead in his ancestral investigation is the stories his mother told of Isidora, a fictional land where the inhabitants have no memory. Armed with a list of names and the memory of his mother's stories, Seth searches Texas for anyone who may know about his family's past.At the same time as Seth's journey unfolds, we are told Abel's story. An elderly man, Abel has little left but the memories of his life during occasionally happier and always less lonely times. Living in the only home he has known, reminders of the past are both a plague and a comfort. But his quiet life, which has gone unaltered for decades, is threatened when a new neighborhood of high-end homes is planned to be built on his land.In between the chapters about Seth and Abel, Block tells the the fictitious, often humorous tale of the first carriers of the familial Alzheimer's gene--Seth's English ancestors--and how they found their way to America. Also interspersed throughout the novel are the fairy tale-like stories of Isidora and a bit of true scientific information about the disease. The intertwining of different stories is mostly successful, and Block's two main characters have believable, distinct voices. The chapters that focus on both the fictional and factual history of the disease occasionally feel superfluous, but even when it is not always clear how they connect to the larger story, the chapters are enjoyable to read. Despite the grave subject of the novel, there are times when the story almost feels lighthearted, and perhaps because Block can write beautifully about everything from the Texas landscape to the bewildering effect Alzheimer's has on the mind, the novel is not as grim as I expected. Although Alzheimer's is a painful, frightening disease, and its shattering effect on everyone it influences is evident throughout the novel, Block also addresses the pain that comes with remembering the past too well. While the title of the novel is The Story of Forgetting, in the end, it does not feel as though the novel is about what people forget (or wish to forget) so much as it is about what remains a part of you despite a deteriorating mind or a troubled past.
clogbottom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book suffers from a lack of focus. It got published because of its subject matter, Alzheimer's disease, and how that subject matter fits in with recent years' infatuation with 'trauma lit,' I think the term is, which blew up with Dave Eggers' 'A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius' and infiltrated both the memoir genre and the fiction genre, with such breakout stars as James Frey and Augusten Burroughs paving the way for even worse knock-offs too numerous to mention. Arguably, Dave Eggers' book was the best of these books, the rest following a marked downward trend.'The Story of Forgetting,' as I said, seems to be a case of marketability outweighing craft. The plot is okay, it smacks loudly of Foer. But it is dissolute. And the whole thing suffers from a lack of editing. None of Block's children seem to have been sent to the gallows; they should have been. The feeling I get from this book about Block is that he thought it might be fun to get a book published. The book itself is not well written.He gets a bonus star for being a nice guy, though.
xmaystarx on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In a sentence, I adored this book. Although it deals with a grim subject, early onset Alzheimer's, the story itself was not depressing. There are sad parts however, I did not walk away with an overall morose feeling as could easily have happened with the subject at hand. The book is divided into four sections, Seth's story, Abel's story, the story of the mythic land of Isadora and the story of the genetic history of the disease. This structure made the book move along nicely, it was a quick read and I kept wanting to know what happens next (always a sign of a good book). As a scientist by trade and a book lover in my spare time the little bits of science that were interspersed throughout the book were a highlight for me. Enough scientific detail to interest me but not so much that a non-scientist wouldn't be able to understand. The writing flowed nicely and the author writes with a voice and style that made this a pleasure to read. The author noted that the Isadora sections were written previously and then inserted in this book. Although some think they don't fit I thought the land was used as a way to show that not remembering and not speaking can be a positive thing in contrast to Alzheimer's. Like most other reviews, I too am surprised at the young age of Stefan Merrill Block and the fact that this is his first novel. I will surely be keeping an eye out for future works by him.
Bks4JHB on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a very engaging and well-written book, all the threads of the stories: the sections that covered the story of Abel and Mae, the sections by Seth about him and his mother, and the story of Isadora. I was anxious that it might fall apart near the end, but it did not. Sometimes the details of Seth's Alzheimer's research was tedious, but those parts were brief, and I believe necessary to the story.
apartmentcarpet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The book contains two separate stories. The first is of an old man remembering his life in a love triangle with his twin brother and his brother's wife, and the daughter that he thinks is his. The second is of a teenage boy struggling with his mom's early-onset Alzheimer's. The two stories are connected, although the meeting doesn't happen until the very end. I found this to be a touching, well-written book. The only thing I didn't like was that it reminded me way too much of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, which also featured a boy searching for the reasons behind the loss of a parent, and a long-lost grandfather.
LynnB on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a story of hereditary, early onset Alzheimer's disease. It is told as interwoven stories: 15 year old Seth Waller, whose mother succumbs to the disease and how he and his father deal with it; and 68 year old Abel Haggard whose family, including his twin brother, are similarly afflicted. We also have the mythical land of Isidora where the thing that makes it so wonderful is the absence of memory. Well written, compelling.....
CindyFrag on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a pleasant read. The two stories tie together very well in the end. I particularly liked that the setting is in Texas and I recognized most of the geographical references. It made it feel like I was reading about a neighbor.
ddirmeyer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Impressive first novel by a young author. Block weaves together the stories of Abel (an elderly man) and Seth (a young teenager) with remarkable skill and insight. I loved the way he also planted a third narrative, the common family folklore, as another aspect of the book. It is a very engaging tale about a very terrifying and tragic illness, Alzheimers. He seems to treat the subject with tenderness and care.Even though Block is only a few years older than his character Seth, I found that character to be the least appealing and believable. At times, he seemed a typical 14 year old boy. Then, he would gain access to people and facts that a middle age professional would find daunting. It is this character's protrayal that prevents me from giving the book five stars. But, I anxiously look for great things to come from Mr. Block.
siubhank on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. Having said that, this book is difficult to read. I consumed it in chapters and half chapters. There is so much content, factual and emotional, some written, some implied, that I had to back away and digest what I had read. I also did some research on the subject matter. When I got to the end, I wished the story would go on further.In the late 18th Century the Countess of Mapplethorpe, from Iddylwahl, England was approximately one month pregnant when chromosome 14 did not complete it¿s appointed task. Her son, Alban Mapplethorpe IV, was a beautiful, cooperative, reasonably smart boy. He married when thirty years old, at his parents behest. He was a good husband, father and liege lord____until he was thirty-five, at which point he began forgetting; his marriage vows, his infidelities and his ducal duties. The results of this `¿unzipped genome¿¿ are spread far and wide, and in 2000 touch a small family in Texas. In a suburb north of Dallas, Abel Haggard is coming to terms with his isolation and the loss of his family by one means or another.In Austin, Texas, Seth Waller is realizing that he has lost his mother to Early Onset Alzhiemers. At fifteen years of age, with a distant father, his is not willing to accept this loss gracefully. He begins a journey that will connect him with the lost past and the story of forgetting every thing that is important.As Seth searches for answers to his mother¿s condition, Abel is reliving his past, even as he begins to sell off the remnants of that past.These two; a young boy and an old man are destined to come together to celebrate the success of a species which is based as much, if not more on our ability to forget than on our ability to remember.The story of forgetting is a fairy tale created to give comfort to the children. In some peculiar way the doomed created a world to give their children something to cling to; hope that even despair, sorrow and loss can be over come, if only in your deepest imagination
sabrinanymph on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It's impossible with the events of last week to consider this title without considering the past six years of my Grandmother's life. Sometime about the time I moved out to the Pacific Northwest, we decided that my Grandmother's stubborn insistence on nonsense wasn't just bad hearing and determination that she was right, but was also at least some form of dementia. Because of my Grandmother's personality and sometimes illogical behaviour even much earlier on, it was rather hard to recognize. With my Grandmother, Alzheimer's, if it actually was and not just a dementia, was not an early-onset, but the forgetting was the same, and so I was drawn to this title in the Early Reviewer list, with the description "spanning continents and generations, The Story of Forgetting is the tale of how history can become destiny, how the imagination can transform reality, and how loss can forge profound meaning. It is the story of the complexity, the pain, and the bliss of forgetting."This book is three stories really. It's the story of seventy year old Abel Haggard, a hermit, the story of Seth Waller, a fifteen year old with a Mother diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's, and it's the story of the disease itself, traced back into the origins in England. This book raised some interesting questions for me - is forgetting that horrible? I watched my Grandmother, and I think to myself that I wouldn't want to live without my memories, but then again if you don't remember what you've forgotten is it that horrible? The characters were absorbing and real. Their faults and their strengths believable, and the struggles to come to terms with a relative who can no longer remember things were portrayed in a sympathetic and believable way. The anger, the denial, and the frustration that is part and parcel of this sort of situation rang very true to me. In my opinion there was only one, in my opinion, semi gratuitous sexual scene that detracted from my enjoyment of the book. And it wasn't terrible, it just wasn't necessary to the story in my opinion. Overall, I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in dementia and Alzheimer's, although fictional where Madeleine L'Engle's Summer of the Great Grandmother is not, I feel like in many ways it falls into a similar category allowing questions to be raised and exploration to take place for people in the middle of a similar family scenario as well as allowing a look into someone else's steps for people not.
dancingwaves on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
(Early reviewer review)This was an interesting book; stylistically, it reminds me some of Jeanette Winterson (which means I should love it, right?). Unfortunately, I didn't love love love the book. It took me a lot to slog through more than half of it.There were moments of the book where I was like "Oh, this is beautiful," bright shining moments where the characters came to life and I enjoyed it immensely.Unfortunately, throughout most of the first half, the characters felt flat. You meet Abel and Seth, two people who have been told the stories of Isidora, a fictional place where none of the citizens remember anything. And each has the lineage of familial early onset Alzheimer's. Abel is waiting for his daughter, who left home 20-plus years ago, and Seth, who is trying to track down his mom's heritage to continue to track the passage of this disease from past to present.I really wanted to love this book. It deals with the idea of memory, love, loss. All of the things I love to read about and explore. Block's writing of it, with long sentences and paragraphs, felt, through more than half of it, forced and stilted.
writestuff on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Stefan Merrill Block¿s debut novel - The Story of Forgetting - is a haunting story about shared grief, the connectivity of family bonds, the pain of memory, and the need to return to the past in order to understand the future. This beautifully written novel centers around two main characters, Abel and Seth, who are unknown to each other but who remember the same story about a magical, fantastic place called Isidora. They both are also working through their grief and loss surrounding Familial Early Onset Alzheimers Disease - for Abel the disease has struck down his twin brother; for 15 year old Seth, it is his mother¿s descent into the illness which turns his world upside down.Block interlocks the stories of both characters, moving back and forth between them in the narrative to reveal their pasts and their motivations. Intertwined in the story is another story - that of Isidora, a fictional place where memory does not exist. As the character Seth unravels the mystery of Alzheimer¿s Disease, he discovers he is not alone, that in fact he is connected to generations of extended family through the wayward gene which began with an English nobleman named Mapplethorpe. This tenuous thread of discovery runs parallel to the stories of Isidora which his mother has passed down to him.This novel touched my heart with its sensitive portrayal of the human suffering associated with Alzheimer¿s Disease. As a physical therapist, I work with many people who are living with neurological diseases such as Alzheimer¿s. I have always been struck by the impact of these illnesses on the families - the sadness, the desire to discover ¿why,¿ the search for a cure, and finally the struggle to keep on going, to find a way to redefine their lives with this new reality. The Story of Forgetting encompasses all these things. It is an entrancing novel, guiding the reader along Seth and Abel¿s journey and revealing what is human in all of us.Recommended