FORGET ME NOT
By Alexandra Oliva
Random House / Ballantine
Pub date: 31-May-2021
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She was born for all the wrong reasons. But her search for the truth reveals answers she wishes she could bury in Forget Me Not, a suspenseful and deeply moving near-future thriller from the author of The Last One.
â€œIn Olivaâ€™s timely, compelling novel Forget Me Not, nothing is as it seems, which keeps the pages flying.â€â€”Laurie Frankel, New York Times bestselling author of This Is How It Always Is
What if your past wasnâ€™t what you thought?
As a child, Linda Russell was left to raise herself in a twenty-acre walled-off property in rural Washington. The woods were her home, and for twelve years she lived oblivious to a stark and terrible truth: Her mother had birthed her only to replace another daughter who died in a tragic accident years before.
Then one day Linda witnesses something she wasnâ€™t meant to see. Terrified and alone, she climbs the wall and abandons her home, but her escape becomes a different kind of trap when she is thrust into the modern worldâ€”a world for which she is not only entirely unprepared, but which is unprepared to accept her.
And you couldnâ€™t see a future for yourself?
Years later, Linda is living in bustling Seattle, but she has never felt more alone. With social media more ubiquitous than ever before, she is hounded by the society she is now forced to inhabit. When Linda meets a fascinating new neighbor who might just be a potential friend, and who shows her the possibility of a new escape through virtual reality, she begins to allow herself to hope for more by being sucked into a world that feels safe, but isnâ€™t real.
What would it take to reclaim your life?
Then an unexplained fire at her infamous childhood home jolts Linda back to reality. She must return to the property for the first time since she was a girl, unleashing a chain of events that will not only endanger her life but challenge her understanding of family, memory, and the world itself.
To say I was blown away by FORGET ME NOT sounds clichÃ©, but is true. Like the cover image of the woman’s head disintegrating, this book is chapter after chapter of important clues into the real life of Linda Russell.
Allow me to begin with Trigger Warnings: parent/child abuse, neglect, abandonment leading to complex trauma; also death of a child.
Throughout the book the narrator lets readers know that Linda doesn’t feel attachment to her name. As it climaxes, we learn what an unreliable main character she is (third person omniscient). Readers do spend most of the time “in” Linda’s head alongside her as she wonders what the hell life is about, why her parents neglected her and abandoned her, and what happened to her sisters Madeline and Emmer. Due to her tragic circumstances of being raised by a single mother who is deep in mental illness from mourning the death of her first daughter, Linda is never good enough. She’s never like Madeline enough. She’s simply not Madeline.
Linda’s early years are explained in rich detail. Her mother walled in their property so Linda could never leave and to keep the real/outside world separate. Linda’s youth went from supportive to trashy to full on neglect and finally abandonment which led her into a life of a feral state. She survived on her own even after the running water and electricity stopped. Then she escapes over the wall and is “rescued.” Yet, like Tarzan of Greystoke, Linda doesn’t fit into modern society. She doesn’t know how to behave. She doesn’t trust. She doesn’t understand any of the basics like why she has to wear shoes when her feet have always been in the dirt.
What makes this feral child story stand apart is the unraveling of why her mother did this to her. A woman driven into total madness and taking science and god powers into her own hands to replace her dead Madeline. Not really a spoiler: Lorelei, the mother, had fertilized embryos frozen and she bribed people to assist her in getting pregnant again when she was supposed to destroy the embryos per her divorce.
Linda’s father, Arthur Niequist, is a man of unspeakable obscene wealth. The kind of wealth like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. He can literally afford anything, but money can’t buy sanity for his ex-wife nor can it heal all the trauma Linda suffered. Arthur is still her knight in shining armor in that he does take in this daughter he never wanted for a while and gets her help. Eventually he supports her to live on her own with an allowance that would allow Linda to live more comfortably than most people. But, Linda, this tragically traumatized woman chooses small apartments, only enough furniture so that questions aren’t raised, and eats canned pasta.
Linda meets a new neighbor in her building, Anvi, an Indian-American woman who knows that this neighbor of hers is the infamous “Clone Girl,” the feral girl child who was created to replace a dead child. Linda had been all over the news and given the trending and inaccurate nickname of #CloneGirl. Anvi and her dog Nibbler become important figures in Linda’s life as she finally accepts friendship. It’s not an easy road and Linda constantly questions (internally) Anvi’s motives in socializing with her. Anvi introduces Linda to the virtual reality world of a fantasy game. The roleplaying is a perfect and addicting escape for Linda. It’s a place where she can be something other than human. She can choose her own identity and she can run through the forests of an imaginary land.
Lorelei comes back onto the scene through a partner named Percival Hunter. Percy was Madeline’s first and only boyfriend. Why a young man would never move on from taking care of his deceased girlfriend’s mother is a point I don’t entirely understand. He made a huge mistake when Madeline was dying and despite his EMT training, he made it impossible for her to be saved. The penance he places on himself is to be at the beck and call and provide shelter and food for Lorelei while she ages and sinks into obsessive plans to re-birth Madeline again.
Names and identity are the core themes of Forget Me Not. Needless to say it was not lost on me that the named Percival and Arthur appear together in a non-Arthurian legend book. I’m not a Holy Grail scholar, so I didn’t see any connection between Lorelei, Anvi, and Linda and King Arthur’s knights. Yet, Percival was the knight or one of the knights who did find the Holy Grail and keep it safe. Now, if Alexandra Oliva wants readers to think of Lorelei as the grail, that’s a stretch. She’s inhumane, destructive, and selfish — all the characteristics that oppose the Holy Grail itself which can restore life and can be found only by the most worthy as Sir Percival was believed to be. With a name like Percival Hunter, it’s hard not believe the author knows something deep about the grail legend that wasn’t covered in Indiana Jones 3, Excalibur or The DaVinci Code.
The near future life in the Pacific Northwest of the US allows the characters to have incredible technological gadgets like Sheaths (wearable computers); Earcuffs (new cell phone style); Augments (eyeglasses that give you information on anything and anyone you look at); and self-driving cars but one still needs a driver’s license. The pandemic is mentioned as being over and something these characters lived through. The advanced technology would be inconsequential if not for the B-plot where a couple of programmers claim that they have created a VR so advanced, it is indistinguishable from the real world. This plot had me going until it’s final reveal.
Small Spoiler about this theory (highlight space below to reveal paragraph):
I kept wondering if Linda’s life was all a simulation like if she was a playable character or something. I was happy that was not the case. I feel like it would have tricked the readers into caring for someone without all the information.
Like Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, Forget Me Not is about feral child trying to fit into the real world is a phenomenal case study about trauma victims and all the ways that they are different. From false memories implanted, abusive parents, and quests for identity through unspeakable struggles — these are the stories that make readers think hard about how their actions could affect the life of someone else whether it’s perpetuating a trolling hashtag or having well-intentioned interactions go wrong.
Rating: 5 stars