April 2013: What Alice Forgot
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderment
If you lost all memory of your past 10 years, would you recognize your life? After fainting and hitting her head, Alice Love comes to and finds that she is a hard-charging, hard-exercising mother of three on the brink of divorce—without any recollection of how all of that happened. To the best of her recall, Alice is 29, deeply in love, about to give birth for the first time, and wildly happy in her life. So imagine her bewilderment when she realizes that her life has moved on, even if she can’t remember it. Does Alice get her memory back? Does she accept where her life has ended up? And if forced to evaluate your own past decade as Alice is, would you recognize the person you’ve become? RealSimple.com Managing Editor Kathleen Harris led the discussion of Liane Moriarity’s, ahem, thought-provoking What Alice Forgot.
What Alice Forgot: Chapters 1 Through 9
What Alice Forgot certainly starts off with a bang, or, I guess, a thump. A fall at the gym has left Alice with amnesia—but she doesn’t realize this just yet. She is still convinced it is 1998 (it’s not) and that she is pregnant with her first child (she has three). Everything is off to her—she appropriately likens what’s happening to her to the story of Alice in Wonderland, which may have been Liane Moriarty’s inspiration for her main character’s name.
The first few chapters definitely read like a mystery, where you are uncovering clues at the same time as the main character. It is an interesting and effective technique, as I was eager to get to the bottom of what happened to Alice over the past decade. Honestly, I think I would have been even more freaked out than Alice is. It’s a lot to take in:
• She has three kids.
• She’s a workout addict.
• She’s turning 40.
• She’s getting divorced.
Personally, I sometimes wake up in my house in the suburbs with my husband, 2-year-old son, dog, and two babies on the way and think to myself, “Wow, I’m a real grown-up now. How did this happen?” I can’t imagine not actually knowing the answer to that question (or at least the events that led me there). I’m sure I’ve changed since I was 25, but change is often gradual. Alice, on the other hand, needs to absorb drastic change immediately. And while I know that, on the list of Alice’s major life changes, becoming a workout addict doesn’t seem to have the same weight as a divorce, to me it really signifies the person she has become. So, question for you: What would your younger self think of the person you are today?
Another discovery for her: Her sister Elisabeth seems different: heavier, sadder, not as friendly. I think it might be even harder to see how the people around you have changed—especially hearing the man whom you think you are still madly in love with curse at and berate you. It was interesting to discover more about Alice’s life through the actions and behaviors (and tone, frankly) of the people around her. Did you like the author’s technique of using Elisabeth’s journal entries to offer her perspective?
I am eager to keep reading. Who is Gina? What happened with Nick? Will Alice get her memory back? Would love to hear your thoughts on the book so far!
For next Friday, let’s read through Chapter 18. Until then...
What Alice Forgot: Chapters 10 Through 18
Alice still doesn’t have her memory back. I’m not surprised. I am thoroughly enjoying the journey to piece her life back together and don’t think the book would be as successful if she already regained her memories. Alice’s first big step is confronting how she’s physically changed over the past decade. She’s more fit, couture haircut, pesky wrinkles—a “grown-up skinny mother of three in the middle of a nasty custard-throwing divorce.” Alice tries to imagine her “real self”—the 28-year-old she remembers. But, as she says, that woman is long gone. Looking at old photos can instill these same emotions (though typically I feel like I look much better in the younger years!), but I can’t imagine what it would be like to look in a mirror at someone you didn’t recognize. It was fascinating that she could replicate her daily beauty routine with such ease. I’ve never known anyone with amnesia so I’m not sure how accurate that would be. Is it really just like riding a bike?
It was effective to hear what Nick and Alice’s relationship was like through Elisabeth’s and Frannie’s eyes. It probably wasn’t as dreamy as she describes (great couple still have blowups about silly things like not dropping off the dry-cleaning or not closing cabinets—my personal pet peeve), but it showed how in love the two of them had been. I wonder what drove them apart: an affair as Alice suspects, or just a decade of grown-up stress?
Elisabeth’s character is personally very interesting to me. I had a difficult time getting pregnant with my first, and I know how isolating and rage-inducing infertility can feel. You don’t want to be that person who can’t enjoy a kid’s birthday party, but somehow it’s impossible to not be. I can now understand better why Alice and Elisabeth grew apart. It can be very difficult to connect when you are at different stages in your life. What do you think: Was it unavoidable that the sisters had drifted because of Elisabeth’s infertility and Alice’s role as supermom? Or is it that they’ve just changed as people?
So much is happening: We meet Dominick, Alice’s boyfriend? We are starting to learn more about this mysterious Gina character. It seems that she may be the key to what happened to Alice’s life over the past decade. But she’s now dead? Do you think Nick had an affair with her? It’s all a little surreal.
I’m anxious for Alice to finally meet her kids. She has seen their home, their rooms, their photos, but she hasn’t actually met them. Do you think it will be like the beauty routine—they will go on as if everything is the same? What would you think if you were meeting your children for the first time?
That should all be revealed in the next installment, up to chapter 25.
What Alice Forgot: Chapters 19 Through 25
I’m sorry for the delay in posting. I wasn’t feeling well on Friday and didn’t get a chance to put down my thoughts on the latest installment of What Alice Forgot.
First, I want to say, this is a tough book to put aside. I am completely riveted to find out more about Alice’s life and what led her to this place. The big meeting came: her first face-to-face with Nick and the children. It goes much better than I would have imagined. Alice seems to be in awe of the whole situation, and the kids handle this miraculously well, in my opinion. They’re acting like, “Oh, Mom, she can’t remember us. How silly.” I think I would have been freaking out if my mom had lost her memory.
Alice is on a mission to put her life back together—the life as she knew it—and has gone so far as to concede to the Christmas custody debate and even invites Nick in for dinner (much to the pleasure of the children). She is trying to woo him back. But her children very directly point out, “You hate him. You just don’t remember it yet.” It is interesting to think about how easy it can be to get madder and madder when you’re arguing, to the point where winning is all that matters and you can’t even truly remember how you got there in the first place. Have you ever found yourself deep in an argument, when all of a sudden you realize (internally, of course) that you don’t really care this much about what you’re fighting about? It has certainly happened to me…but often you’re too far down the path and said too many things you don’t really mean to know how to repair it. Alice has the benefit of a decade of memory loss. But Nick doesn’t. He is still used to the negative banter that they have grown into. I’m intrigued to see what happens with these two.
We are starting to learn more, from various sources, about what has led to their breakup. School-mom frenemy Kate Harper attributes it to Gina and the fact that Nick didn’t attend her funeral. During a session Alice has with her trainer (whom she’s incredibly surprised to see!), he tells her what she’d deemed was the reason for her divorce: “lack of sleep.” Honestly, as I’ve mentioned, with twins on the way this terrifies me, but it had to be more than that. Nick’s job devotion and success has obviously kept him away from his family—and rather irritable. Was it inevitable that they would grow apart?
Meanwhile, everyone else’s lives are progressing. Frannie has a new suitor (Mr. Mustache) and Elisabeth and Ben are facing the next stage of their infertility struggles—whether or not to adopt—while waiting for the results of her last IVF treatment. It is an interesting juxtaposition between the past and the present, where Alice seems to still have major influence over both.
We are learning more about what happened with Gina—but still don’t know the full story (was she the woman in the laundry room?). I’m sure that will be revealed in the final chapters.
Finally, I’ve learned that Liane Moriarty has sold the movie rights to the book. So let’s play the casting game: Who do you envision as Alice? Nick? Elisabeth?
For this Friday, let’s read through to the end—if you haven’t already gotten there!
What Alice Forgot: Chapter 26 Through the End
Wow. After so much lead-up, the pieces fall quickly in place. Ever the soothsayer, Nick says to Alice, “I’ll know when you get your memory back. The way you look at me. As soon as you remember, I’ll see it in your eyes.” While overwhelmed by emotional triggers of Gina, thanks to a mega-meringue pie and Elvis, visions of the past decade flood Alice’s mind and when she comes to, she looks at Nick with “daggers.” She remembers exactly why they are divorcing: “It wasn’t just that her memories of the last ten years were back. It was that her true self, as formed by those ten years, was back. As seductive as it might have been to erase the grief and pain, it was also a lie. Young Alice hadn’t experienced ten years of living.” Do you agree with this?
I’m thankful we learn more about Alice and Gina’s relationship—and the impact that the friendship had on who Alice became. The influence of one’s peers in grade school is great; but does this actually continue throughout our lives without us realizing it?
Obviously, in the end, Nick and Alice get back together. (And Elisabeth finally has her baby!) Do you think their reconciliation was realistic? Will Alice be happier in the end with Nick? If she hadn’t lost her memory, could she have had a happier life with Dominick?
If I had to summarize the takeaway for me, it would be this one part: “There just wasn’t enough time in 2008. It had become a limited resource. Back in 1998, the days were so much more spacious. Days were so stingy now. Mean slivers of time.” As life gets more complicated (read: Your responsibilities grow whether due to a new dog, a child, a house, financial worry...), your time to stop and smell the roses—to use a cliché—evaporates. I unexpectedly began to think about I Don’t Know How She Does It—which, in full disclosure, I am not a huge fan of. (I take issue with the fact that the only solution—SPOILER ALERT!—is to quit her job and move to the country to make cupcakes. There has to be a more realistic middle ground.) The reason I bring this up is that I think Alice’s amnesia reminds us to slow down. It doesn’t happen in an instant, but over a decade your life may take a series of twists and turns that could lead you to a place that you’re not happy with. And, hopefully, we all won’t need to have amnesia to put everything in perspective. So look around, squeeze your loved ones tight, and let’s all play hooky for a day.
What did you think of the book? I really enjoyed reading it, and I hope you did too! Now, any questions for Liane Moriarty? If so, post them below by next Friday, May 3: She’ll be answering them for us!
Liane Moriarity Talks About What Alice Forgot
Though her new book, The Husband’s Secret, won’t be published in the United States until the end of July, it has already been released in Liane Moriarty’s native Australia (and will be out in the United Kingdom at the end of September). Which means that she has work to do, promoting it. Still, Moriarty took time out to talk about What Alice Forgot, answering questions from NOBC members about our April 2013 read. See what she has to say about her inspiration for the book, her passion for a certain Jim Carrey movie, and her role in the film version of Alice. (Note: All spellings are the author’s Australian originals.) Enjoy!
From reader himmel: What was your motivation to write this story in this fashion? Did you think of using memory loss as a way to review Alice’s life when you started writing or did that come after the story of Alice and Nick?
The memory loss was definitely my starting point. I was inspired by a true story of a woman in the UK who lost her memory and thought she was a teenage girl. She didn’t recognise her husband or children. The interesting part to me was that she apparently behaved like a teenager as well. So it was like she’d time-travelled into her future. I’m sure I was also subconsciously influenced by the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which is one of my favourite movies of all time. (I saw it with a friend who didn’t like it! It really put a strain on our friendship.) I just loved the idea of how shocked you’d be if you found out how a relationship was going to end when you were all starry-eyed at the beginning, and how if you wiped your memory clean after a relationship break-up, you’d probably just fall in love with that same person all over again.
From reader swansonkl: I always hope the movie follows true to the book so my question for Ms. Moriarty is how much influence and advising will she have over the movie’s content? Will she be helping with writing the script? Does she have any input as to who she think might be good for the parts?
I wouldn’t have any input over the script or casting. It’s not my area of expertise, so to be honest I’m perfectly happy to hand it over to the experts. I wouldn’t mind if they changed aspects of my story—I understand that movies sometimes have to combine characters and that sort of thing. Having said that I’d obviously prefer it to be a GOOD movie, so I didn’t feel like I had to hide behind my popcorn when I went to see it.
From reader dconnolly: Since our discussion earlier this week, regarding this book becoming a movie, I have been very intrigued to find out if the movie is yet in production, and if so, if casting is in place (or has begun). So that is my question for Liane … anything that she can tell us about the upcoming movie. I really enjoyed this book and have already recommended it to many others!
The last I heard was that a scriptwriter was working on the adaptation. However, I’ve heard from many other authors that you shouldn’t expect anything until they actually start shooting the movie. It’s a long process and film studios option many zillions of books (I use the word “zillion” because I have no idea of the actual number) that never end up as movies. So I try not to waste too much time dreaming about what I’d wear to the premiere.
From deputy editor Maura Fritz: I'd love to know two things: Did the author always know that Alice and Nick would reconcile, or was that the conclusion the story led her to? And for my own curiosity, was the story always so loaded with American pop culture reference, or was it Americanized for the audience here?
I didn’t know that they’d reconcile. At one point I thought that they might just end up as friends and perhaps that would have made a more realistic, grittier ending. However, by the end of the book, once I knew both my characters, it would have broken my heart to have kept them apart. It seemed to make sense that we would finish with Alice and Dominick still together, but then in the epilogue we once again “time-travelled” another 10 years, and found out how her life had once again been transformed over the past decade. That felt right to me—and I think most readers were happy with it, although I know some people were cross with me.
There was definitely no Americanizing of the book—apart from changing a “step class” to a spin class, and there might have been a few words here and there that we changed, if we knew that it wouldn’t make any sense to the reader and would spoil their enjoyment of the book. Apart from that I really fought to keep in as much Australian slang as possible, although I had to let you have your funny spelling! In regard to the pop culture references, your pop culture tends to be our pop culture—Australians watch a lot of the same TV shows, listen to the same music, obsess about the same celebrities etc, so that just happened naturally.