Alice comes to on the floor of a gym, having just taken a hard hit to the head. She thinks she’s 29, happily married, and pregnant with her first child. The reality is much different. Almost everything old Alice hoped for her future is the opposite of what she’d expect. She’s almost 40, a mother of three, going through a messy divorce and custody battle with her once-beloved husband. She is an involved school mom and spends her days running PTA-type meetings, exercising, and managing her house and children. Alice and her sister, who were always very close, have grown apart. Her relationship with her oldest daughter is strained. And Alice can’t shake the feeling that something terrible has happened. Alice can hardly recognize the shape her life has taken and spends her days trying to recover her memory, while reconciling the old Alice with the new Alice, and hoping to get a second chance in her marriage.
This is the fourth book I’ve read and enjoyed by Liane Moriarty. What Alice Forgot, like Moriarty’s other novels, is told from three different points of view. Alice is the predominant voice and story here, but we also have journal snippets from her sister, Elisabeth, and letters written by her surrogate grandmother, Frannie. Elisabeth and Frannie’s perspectives help fill in the backstory of Alice’s missing 10 years, but these characters also are transformed by what has happened to Alice. In particular, they are forced to reflect how their past selves would view who they’ve become, which helps them let go of some past hangs up and move on with their lives. It is an interesting line of reflection, and Elisabeth’s story, which focuses on her struggle with infertility, was particularly effective when put next to Alice’s story. Alternating points of view is something I am picky about, but I think Moriarty does them very well, as I always enjoy them in her stories.
As for Alice, I didn’t find that I particularly liked Alice or that I could relate to her (well, other than I’m a wife and a mother), but I did find her situation one of those that does force you to reflect on your own life and how things never quite go the way you expect them to. Alice’s life has been shaped by people and events she doesn’t even remember and while on the one hand it makes it hard to understand what is going on in her life (Why on earth are she and Nick getting a divorce?), it gives her some distance to reconsider things from a new perspective (Why was she so hard on her daughter when what she needed most was love and attention?). And when Alice finally recovers her memory, she is able to actually move on with her life and to heal some of the wounds that have been gaping in her various relationships.
This book, and my reaction to it, reminded me a lot of Time of My Life by Allison Winn Scotch, in which a character goes back in time to relive her past life, but with memories of her old one. Both reflect on how we grow and change over time and particularly with marriage and motherhood. Both also encouraged me to confront the questions that the protagonists were facing: How would me from 10 years ago view my life now? What would I change about the past (or the present) if I could? And I think that this is something that I, as a reader, am drawn to– books that make me reflect about myself and my own development and decisions.
Anyways, if chick lit is your thing and you haven’t tried Liane Moriarty, I’d highly recommend her books. She is definitely one of the best chick lit writers around these days and I particularly appreciate that her books tend to focus on women in their 30s with husbands and children. What Alice Forgot is not my favorite Liane Moriarty book (just read Big Little Lies already, ok?), but it was an interesting story with well-developed characters and it left me with a lot to think about.