Have I ever mentioned that I have a truly terrible memory? Well, if I have, forgive me. I’ve obviously forgotten. I kid you not, I am the epitome of the absentminded professor, especially when it comes to remembering books I’ve read and movies I’ve watched. I’ve always admired people who can trot out remembered first lines of books, who can remember everything they read. I mean, I can, sort of, but I generally need some sort of mental prompting to get there.
It’s never been a big deal. Almost a joke really, something hubby can trot out at parties to tease me with. Harmless. J.T. Ellison channels inner ditz, blind squirrel finds nut, news at 11.
But now I find that I can’t remember what I’ve written as well, which can be mighty embarassing. I was at dinner over the holidays with a friend who was reading the book. He told me he was right at the spot where Baldwin goes to Virginia. I stared at him blankly, thinking Huh? Virginia? There’s no murder in Virginia in the book. To prove that I’m a complete imbecile, I proceeded to tell him that. You must mean Georgia, or maybe North Carolina, I said. He looked at me like I’d grown three heads and said, no, pretty sure it’s Virginia. It took me a moment, then it connected. DUH! I set a huge murder scene in Roanoke.
In a flash, all the research I’d done, the scene, the plot, the point, the why all hit me. It wasn’t a minor point in the book, either — dump site, grassy field, helicopters, news vans, interviews, a hotel crime scene, another girl missing… Sheesh. Of course I had a murder in Virginia. Good grief, where is my mind?
I laughed it off at the time, but this is a serious issue. It happened with the edits of my second book. I got my ed letter and there was a comment about a secondary character — and I thought, who’s that? Ten seconds later it connected again, just like the Virginia thing, but man. How can I not know my own work by heart?
I just know it’s going to happen out on the road, on a panel, at a signing, and I’ll end up looking like a complete fraud because I can’t remember all the details in MY OWN BOOK, the one I rewrote a thousand times. Either I’m going mad, or I have a legitimate memory issue.
The day after my dinner faux pas, I picked up a book I’d bought at the airport. I’ve been salivating over the trailers for ATONEMENT, and was determined to read the book before I saw the film. Christmas frivolity behind me, I curled up with a cup of tea, preparing myself for a journey of the highest order. I neglected to read the back cover . . . okay, I’ll admit it, I rarely read the cover flaps and copy, simply because I like to be surprised. I’ve bought the book, why chance ruining something for myself?
I was two pages in when I felt the oddest sense of familiarity. Predisposed to it, I told myself, having just finished THE NIGHT CLIMBERS, a story redolent of Donna Tartt’s brilliant THE SECRET HISTORY. I kept reading. Five pages in I decided I’ve had just about enough of writers openly copying the form and function of each other. I mean really, how many books can you open in a country estate with the children preparing a play? Seven pages in I stopped, annoyed as hell at myself. I had a sneaking suspicion that I’d read this book before. But how could that be? Surely I’d remember the title of such a book? Onward I pressed, promising myself that if there was a broken . . . damn, there it was.
Grr… Full stop. I checked the copyright, pulled up IMDB, read the movie synopsis, then sat, shaking my head. I’ve read ATONEMENT. I LOVED ATONEMENT. Somehow, I completely blanked the story of ATONEMENT, and I’m so clueless that I have been watching the trailers over and over and never put the two together.
I don’t know whether this is a blessing or a curse. Yes, I can reread books and rewatch movies. Get more bang for the buck, right? What I don’t understand is how some I remember with such clarity, and other I can’t get past the sneaking unease of déjà vu.
So as a test, I tried to remember what my first blog post of 2007 was. Surely I could remember my first foray into my debut year . . . not. I had to go look it up. What I read was eerie. Downright creepy. I’m repeating my first week of January.
Last year I was upset by the death of Gerald Ford. This year I’m horrified at the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Last year I was starting a new book. This year, you guessed it, I’m starting a new book. Last year I was examining the art of procrastination and concerned about having to work on multiple projects at once. This year I’m trying to wrap my head around the promotion schedule I’ve set for January (5 events, the teaching gig next week, plus launching the Killer Year anthology, a guest blog stint at Moments in Crime, an essay, an interview and hello, I still have to feed Randy and do laundry. What the heck was I thinking?) and juggling the down time I need to get started on this book with the errant expectation of people who like to make sure I’m still alive that I ever want to leave my house.
Gaaaaaahhhhhhhh…………..Maybe I don’t have a memory issue. Maybe I’m just on sensory overload. Too much work, too little time. I was able to complete and shelve two MAJOR projects that ate into all my free time last year, and now I know what to expect from book launches and sales and all that, so I won’t be utterly preoccupied with that. And to my credit, I did read ATONEMENT when it originally published, while I was still down from back surgery and not all the synapses were firing due to a lengthy run of anesthesia. Not a great excuse, I know, but a legitimate one.
After living almost half my life with a man who has the gift of perfect recall, I have realized that trying to remember is simply the universe’s way of playing a cruel joke on me. I’m much better off in my little dissociative cocoon, happily rereading books I’ve looked forward to for months and forgetting the endings of movies I’ve seen four times. The real world is too scary for me. I will go on making my lists (if it doesn’t get written down, it doesn’t happen, trust me) and spluttering through my imperfect mind.
So, a poll to start the new year:
- Insanity – blessing, or curse?
- Have you ever read a book, gotten to the last page and then realized you’ve already read it?
- Do ginko and crosswords really ward off dementia?
- Should I read ON CHESIL BEACH, which I’ve heard described as a smaller version of ATONEMENT and I’m sure I haven’t already read?
Wine of the Week: Faustino V 1998 Rioja Reserve A brilliant, brilliant wine.
Okay, I’ve just proven to myself that memory is linked to desire. I came up with the name without having to look in my notes. I’ve been excited to share this one since we had it over Christmas, and I fell in love with the heady scent of snapping black cherries and vanilla — a very nice little wine. Hubby said that it was "impetuous, and if it were a baby, I’d spank it." He’s funny like that.
P.S. — With apologies to the amazing Ian McEwan. ATONEMENT was truly wonderful.