Friday, December 18, 2015

Review: "The Great Forgetting" by James Renner

As if on cue, another author who lit my world on fire last year voids the sophomore slump and provides readers with the next levels of the burgeoning talent and wisdom. Last week, it was Steve Toltz’s Quicksand, this week; it is James Renner’s second novel, The Great Forgetting. Last year, I read Renner’s debut novel, The Man from Primrose Lane on a whim, and found it to be one of the most unique and moving novels I have read not only of that year, but also of any year, now that enough time has passed. It begins as a sort of super dark super gritty mystery of one man investigating two seemingly separate crimes becomes something much more, and has a twist I promise you won’t see coming. Not everyone will go along with it, but if you did, you were rewarded handsomely. This novel is just as good, and has just as many twists and turns that open up new layers in the narrative you didn’t think were ever possible. While The Man from Primrose Lane dealt with ideas of loss and the passage of time in a totally new way, Renner here is more focused on ideas of identity, sacrifice and the way forgetting some more unpleasant memories of our life will rob us of the lessons we learn, and ultimately, a more fulfilling life. I will try my best to avoid the big spoiler that most will realize around the 150-page mark. It is not as game changing as the one in The Man from Primrose Lane, but is just as important, and I will try my best to keep mum about it. The novel begins simply, with a lonely Ohio teacher, Jack Felter, comes home to his hometown of Franklin Mills to care for his father, who is in the deepest stages of dementia. While there, he reconnects with his sister Jean, who is a recovering addict with a young daughter named Paige and a girl named Sam, his first true love, who left him for his best friend, Tony. Tony has been missing for three years, and in a thinly veiled effort to win Sam back, he starts searching for what happened to Tony. This puts him in contact with a boy named Cole, who was one of Tony’s patients, and who has extremely paranoid delusions. Once Jack meets Cole, and he begins telling Jack to boil his water so he can tell him the Seven Impossibilities, things take a turn for weird, and it is a race against time for Jack to find out what happened to Tony and save the ones he loves, and the world itself, from forgetting what is important. What makes Renner so great is that these leaps in plot are never so jarring that they lose me, which is one of the reasons I’m not a big Sci-fi guy. What’s important is the human emotion at the heart of it, much like the work of Rod Serling, who is quoted at the beginning of each section, along with chapters being named after Twilight Zone episodes, like “To Serve Man” and “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” He spoon-feeds the more outlandish elements to you gradually, while never letting up on the character development and plot urgency, making for an intense, intelligent and inviting narrative that I bet you haven’t seen before. I hope James Renner keeps this up, because he is so damn good I’m almost speechless.

Rating: 5/5

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