What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty

Review by Meg 

When I was a college freshman, I wrote a “10 year” letter to myself – to be read when I was 29. It was full of the usual stuff – who my friends were, what classes I was taking, the guy that I currently had a crush on, etc. I put it away in my keepsake box and proceeded to forget about it. Then, when I was 28, right after having my first child, I found it – and decided 9 years was good enough to wait, and re-met my 19-year-old self. By this point in my life, it was mostly funny to read, maybe mildly embarrassing (I liked THAT guy – Really? And thought I might MARRY him??). But that whole instance brings up an interesting question: Do you know what your life will be like 10 years from now?

What Alice Forgot begins with Alice waking up (with a very sore head), thinking she’s 29 years old, madly in love and about to have her first baby – only to be told that she’s actually 39, has 3 kids, and is about to get a divorce. Shealice has absolutely no memory of the last ten years of her life, and cannot imagine how on earth she got to where she is now.

The next 476 pages unfold with Alice trying to remember her life and repair the damage she’s done. But without her memory, she is, as she puts it “floating helplessly above the calendar like an escaped balloon.” I flew through this book – IN ONE DAY (that’s how much I just needed to help Alice resolve her issues). In one sense, the premise is similar to other memory-loss stories like Remember Me, but what’s unique about this story are the close-to-home issues that many “ordinary” people experience – about marriage and divorce (and custody battles), and about the grief and heartache of infertility. The story unfolds with 3 narrative voices – mostly through the 3rd-person omnicient author, but also through the journals of Alice’s sister, Elisabeth and the letters of Frannie, Alice’s surrogate grandmother, to her long-dead fiance. I know that may sound confusing, but I thought the change-up in narration helped weave some interesting texture into the plot (and gave us that special, inside look into Elisabeth’s infertility).

The story’s ending seemed to “work out nicely” – and I’m sure some readers will be disappointed that it wasn’t more shocking and post-modernly heartbreaking – but I really appreciated the fact that the resolution (for all 3 women) had true goodness and what I would call the kind gifts of God winning the day.

Purchase What Alice Forgot here.

NOTABLE QUOTES: 

“It’s Mother’s Day next Sunday. That’s the most painful day of the year for an Infertile. I always wake up feeling ashamed. Not sad so much. Just ashamed. Sort of stupid. It’s a version of that feeling I had in high school when I was the only one in my class who didn’t need to wear a bra. I’m not a proper woman. I’m not a grown-up.” 

“But maybe every life looked wonderful if all you saw was the photo albums.”

“Each memory, good and bad, was another invisible thread that bound them together, even when they were foolishly thinking they could lead separate lives. It was as simple and complicated as that.”

“Early love is exciting and exhilarating. It’s light and bubbly. Anyone can love like that. But after three children, after a separation and a near-divorce, after you’ve hurt each other and forgiven each other, bored each other and surprised each other, after you’ve seen the worst and the best– well, that sort of love is ineffable. It deserves its own word.”