Thursday, July 7, 2011
In Which Trai Reviews 'My Name Is Memory'
The Book: My Name Is Memory
The Author: Ann Brashares
How I Found It: I saw a passing mention of it somewhere and looked up a synopsis. Thanks to my local library, I soon had it on TARDIS, ready to be read.
The Review: "I’ve never had a child, and I’ve never gotten old. I don’t know why. I have seen beauty in countless things. I have fallen in love, and she is the one who endures. I killed her once and died for her many times and I still have nothing to show for it. I always search for her; I always remember her. I carry the hope that someday she will remember me." (11)
These are the words of Daniel Gray, who is blessed--or cursed--with "the memory," the ability to recall his past lives. His first life was in 541, where he was a warrior in North Africa. He is ordered to burn what he thinks is an enemy camp, but turns out to be a village full of civilians. A young girl dies in a fire Daniel, then called something else, started. He's ashamed and saddened to have killed someone so young, so beautiful, and his view of the world is altered forever.
When Daniel realizes he can recognize other souls from his past lives in his current one, he is stunned to see the girl from North Africa once more. Sophia, as she is now called, is married to his abusive brother. Daniel and Sophia might be meant for each other, but circumstances will always conspire to keep them apart: "From that moment, as I look back, I can trace the beginning of a few unlucky themes that would carry on for centuries. Our lives being mismatched in time. Her being someone else's wife. Her forgetting me." (54)
In the present day, Daniel has found Sophia: they are both students at a Virginia high school, and Sophia is now known as Lucy. When he approaches her the night of a school dance and tries to tell her they once knew each other, Lucy is unnerved and leaves. Over the next few years, however, she begins to realize that what Daniel said might be true after all--that their love has endured through many lives and many losses, and that she must find him in this life, despite another force that threatens to keep them apart.
This book wasn't perfect, but Ann Brashares wrote a compelling love story that had me tearing through the pages. The idea of a love that endures through the ages was gorgeous, although I actually laughed at times due to some striking similarities to Doctor Who (purely coincidental, I'm more than certain, but Daniel had so much in common with Rory that I couldn't help picturing Arthur Darvill as I read). Daniel's love for Sophia is palpable, everlasting, and the real force behind the story. His recollections of his past lives with Sophia were the most fascinating segments.
That was both a strength and a problem, though. Daniel's segments were interesting; the variations in his lives were fun to pick up on, and even if Brashares didn't seem to put much research into the historical periods (up until the WWI segments, she seemed to pick periods and places that are much lesser known), the bits and pieces of history were intriguing. Lucy's segments, however, were considerably less interesting at times. She spends a good chunk of the book wondering how to feel about Daniel and then trying to find him again, and it just wasn't interesting to read about. Some things never really came together: she sleeps with her roommate's brother a few times, seemingly just to feel something for someone, but it's never mentioned more than three times, and doesn't have any meaning in the end. Compared to Daniel, with the richness of his many lives, she just didn't have enough of a personality outside of her confused feelings for him, and I wish Brashares had done more to develop her character.
Other things about the book felt a bit questionable. For example, Daniel and Lucy's first meeting in the present day. It's at a school-thrown party; Lucy finds him in a back room after having watched him for years. They drink some bourbon and kiss, and when Daniel tries to tell Lucy who he is, she pulls away, which leads to her dress ripping. Prior to this, they were sitting so close that her knee was between his legs, and vice versa. There were a lot of really sketchy things about the encounter (the insta-sexual attraction, the drinking, him ripping her dress ripping even if it was unintentional) that it turned me off at first, and it took me a week or two to get back to the book. In the end, though, no matter how suspicious Daniel's actions come off at times, he's ultimately trying to protect Lucy from harm (and not in a creepy, Edward Cullen sort of way), so it was easier for me to overlook those odd occurrences.
I also wished that Brashares had explored the implications of her system of reincarnation. Daniel's friend Ben, a man when Daniel first meets him, is shown to reincarnate into female forms as well as male ones. Yet this never happens to Daniel and Sophia; they stay the same over generations. For Daniel, it's probably the sheer force of his will that keeps him male, but why not have Sophia be a man in an incarnation or two, just to shake things up? How would that change their dynamic? What would be different; what would be the same? I felt at times like Brashares was too hesitant to explore her system, and I would have liked her to be a bit more daring.
The book really picked up speed for me during the World War I segment, where Daniel is a dying soldier and Sophia is a nurse named Constance who is charged with taking care of him. This section was one that made me cry, as Daniel tells Constance their story and tries desperately to get her to remember him in their next lives. (I do wish Brashares hadn't gone the direction of having Constance be nigh-suicidal after his death, because that's a romance stereotype that needs to go, but it was for plot purposes, so it was hard to discount it.) Even if their romance is only given seventeen days, a trope I normally hate, it's easy to see how Constance and Daniel build such an intense emotional connection, why Constance believes him, and why she's so determined to remember him in her next lives.
I wasn't expecting the book to have a real message, but it did, and it was carried off well. Brashares makes a point of showing the flaws in the way Daniel chooses to live his life, dwelling obsessively in the past and not making emotional connections in each life, instead focusing his energy on finding Sophia. It's an exhortation to her readers to slow down and consider the relationships in their own lives, to love not just one person but many. It also encouraged Daniel to not be so singleminded, and it was nice to see some character growth there. Even if Daniel was 1500 or so years old, he still had things to learn.
A common complaint about the book is the loose ends it leaves dangling, particularly the open ending. Brashares is apparently still up in the air about writing a sequel, but if she does, it will apparently be a trilogy. There's a lot she still needs to explore--how their enemy does what he does, for one, and I'd personally love to learn more about Daniel's friend Ben--and I hope she does decide to write another book, because I'd be curious to read more about Daniel and Lucy's tragic but ultimately beautiful story. Recommended to fans of The Time Traveler's Wife, with a caveat about the open ending!