Book Review: All Is Not Forgotten, Wendy Walker (2016)

July 20th, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Mesmerizing — and also a little maddening!

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC though NetGalley. Trigger warning for violence, including rape.)

I was a child with a box of matches.

It seems so easy, doesn’t it? To just erase the past. But now you know better.

Jilted by some jerk named Doug, fifteen-year-old Jenny Kramer flees from the party he’d invited her to – only to cross paths with a predator. Jenny is assaulted and raped in the woods surrounding her classmate’s house. A few of her fellow party-goers hear Jenny’s cries and rush to her aid, but not until the hour-long attack has ended, and the perpetrator escaped.

Upon her arrival at the hospital, the doctors immediately administer a sedative so that they can perform an exam and then surgery. With her parents’ consent, they also subject Jenny to a controversial treatment to erase her memories of the trauma. A combination of morphine and Benzatral, the treatment is meant to induce limited anterograde amnesia in patients: preventing short-term memories from being filed away in long-term storage. (While this does feel a little science fiction-y, according to the author’s note, the premise is based on emerging research, most notably on veterans suffering from PTSD.)

While the treatment initially appears successful – inasmuch as Jenny has no memories of the rape – Jenny’s mental state slowly begins to unravel. She suffers from anxiety and insomnia; she begins to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs; and, eight months later, she attempts suicide.

Enter Dr. Alan Forrester, Fairview’s only psychiatrist, who also just so happens to be working with a patient similar to Jenny. Sean Logan is an ex-Navy SEAL who lost an arm in an IED explosion in Iraq. Like Jenny, he was given a treatment to help him forget (although the military at least had his consent to do so, however dubious). In the months since, Sean’s preexisting anxiety has only multiplied, giving way to bouts of rage and violence. Scared that he might hurt his wife or son – and desperate to remember what happened to the rest of his team – Sean has been working with Alan to recover his memories. Dr. Forrester is confident that he can help Jenny – and, by extension, the stalled criminal investigation – as well.

All Is Not Forgotten is a tricky book to review. Compulsively readable, I had trouble putting it down … except, of course, for all the ragey status updates I posted to Goodreads. (Awful narrator is awful, but then that’s kind of the point.) Yet I found the ending less than satisfying.

The story is told from the point of view of the psychiatrist, and shifts abruptly in tone about halfway through. This is where it becomes clear that the good (ahem) doctor has his own agenda, which sometimes – but not always – sits in opposition to his patient’s best interests. At first he comes across as a nice enough guy, but soon cracks begin to appear in his shiny armor. He doesn’t seem to think much of his wife or son, yet has an inflated sense of his own self worth. He does a lot of unethical, rage-inducing stuff; rationalizes and makes excuses; is vindicated, in a sense; and then lives happily every after. This is thanks in no small part to the twisty ending, which is improbable but not ridiculously so, as they often are. (Black-Eyed Susans, I am looking at you.)

Jenny’s parents are an integral part of the story – as they begin therapy with Dr. Forrester as well – and Walker does a good job of developing them into interesting and complex characters in their own right. Jenny, on the other hand, doesn’t receive much characterization outside of the rape, and its effect on her. We don’t much sense of the girl she was before. Her relationship with Sean is quite lovely, though, and I also appreciate that its platonic development proved Forrester wrong. Dude could stand to be taken down one or twenty pegs, okay.

I also didn’t much care for the focus on Dr. Forrester, which pushes Jenny – you know, the victim/survivor? – into the margins. By allowing Alan to narrate the story, it becomes all about him. Of course, this could be the author’s intention – the guy’s nothing if not self-important – and yet it just feels wrong. Unsettling. A little icky.

Probably the story’s similarities to the Brock Turner rape case – which, at the time of this writing, is dominating the news – doesn’t help me feel any better about it: it being the ubiquity of rape in our entertainment; the rush to protect rapists, especially rich, white, male athletes; the marginalization of victims and their voices. Etc., etc.

Overall, All Is Not Forgotten is a gripping read that raises some important questions about informed consent, medical ethics, memory, self-identity, trauma, and therapy. It’s a great weekend or summer read; I devoured it in one especially hot and lazy June day. (It even distracted me from the humidity for five minutes here and there.) But thinking too hard on it might make you a little stabby.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

 

Comments (May contain spoilers!)

Diversity: Hours after being raped, fifteen-year-old Jenny Kramer is given a controversial treatment to induce anterograde amnesia – to make her forget the trauma. While it seems to have been successful – inasmuch as Jenny does not remember the assault – in the months following the treatment, she exhibits anxiety and insomnia; begins to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs; and tries to commit suicide eight months later. While the memories of the trauma have been suppressed, the physical reaction is there; and, with no memories to attach themselves to, the feelings are running unchecked. Her psychiatrist, Dr. Alan Forrester, leads her in a number of exercises to recover the memories – so she can confront the trauma head-on and work through it with CBT therapy.

Jenny becomes close with Sean Logan, an ex-Navy SEAL who lost an arm in an IED explosion in Iraq. He received the same treatment as Jenny, and is also having problems adjusting to the induced amnesia.

Jenny’s mother Charlotte was raped by her stepfather, beginning at the age of 17. When her mother Ruthanne found out about the “affair,” she sent Charlotte away to live with her aunt.

Animal-friendly elements: Mostly irrelevant, though the narrator (a psychiatrist) does make this rather shitty aside about nonhuman animals:

I have always been fascinated by the bond between parent and child. I’m sure you have gleaned this already. It is in us. It is why we are here. To fornicate, to make babies, and then to die protecting them. In that respect, we are animals. And yet, we also have morality, and that is what distinguishes us from animals. I don’t care what anyone says about animals. They do not have morals. Any animal behavior that mimics morality is nothing more than a coincidence. They are driven by the need to survive and this need, this raw instinct, sometimes causes them to act in a “moral” way.

This is pretty rich considering the source; the narrator is an awful person, and this just further reinforces his general awfulness, imho. But maybe that’s also the point? (See my review for more.)

 

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