Thursday, June 16, 2016

IF I FORGET YOU :: Thomas Christopher Greene

"If  poetry is the search for significance, then the stubbornness of love must be its fullest expression."

As a fan of Thomas Christopher Greene's The Headmaster's Wife, I was happy to read an early copy of If I Forget You without even knowing much about it. Although they are both lovely-written stories of love, marriage, tragedy, and human frailty, the similar themes did not result in Greene's new work feeling repetitive. Although I had my issues with the story, Greene's writing is such that I enjoyed the journey despite a few bumps along the way.

Henry Gold and Margot Fuller are star-crossed protagonists from different sides of the tracks. Henry wins a baseball scholarship to tony Barrister College, where semi-troubled-child Margot is also attending with an edict from her wealthy father to shape up and do well or suffer the consequences.

Henry discovers poetry, and soon enough he's given up the diamond to concentrate on his writing. As their paths cross, Margot and Henry find something special, only to lose it after a well-meaning but irreparably harmful incident during their first summer apart in 1991.

In 2012, Henry, now a divorced professor at NYU, spies Margot on the streets of New York. They haven't seen or spoken to each other since the events of 1991, and Margot runs to a cab and flees after her eyes meet Henry's.

From there, Greene deftly weaves the story between past and present, between both Henry and Margot, slowly unraveling their story and how they each came to a different end than they had hoped and perhaps dreamed of.

Although the plot isn't groundbreaking, I found myself sucked in by Greene's writing, which included some truly lovely moments. I liked Henry and Margot, felt empathy for each of them, and cared about the ride Greene was taking me on.  At the same time, I wondered if it was going anywhere new or interesting. Though I anticipated what might be the one real "twist" to the story, it wasn't until somewhat late in the game and it didn't take the all the air out of the reveal.

Things did take a downturn in the final third, when I questioned some of the character reactions based on the history we'd just spent the first two-thirds of the story investing in. While that dissonance was never explained or rationalized, I thought Greene brought the story back up with a conclusion I found as appealing as it was perhaps ambiguous.

STREET SENSE:  If you like character-driven pieces that progress over time, I think you'll enjoy If I Forget You. As a fan of the multi-POV and multi-time period format, I was happy with how Greene pulled these elements off. Even if the star-crossed lover story isn't new, this one is written in an engaging and lyrical style that kept me turning the pages because I enjoyed the language. But please, for the love of whatever God you might believe in, can we do away with writing about people in their early forties as if they're ancient? It makes me feel old.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE:    The words pour out of him in great jumbles that he seeks to tame on the page. Henry loves words. He loves how they fall off his tongue, like syrup spiraling off a spoon. He loves the music of words, the math of them, the logic of shifting them around like numbers until they make just the right sound. Mostly, though, Henry loves that words allow him to organize the world around him, to make order out of chaos, to take life and family and in short phrases bend them into something as pure as a baseball diamond on a summer evening. Words are a way to make sense of it all.

COVER NERD SAYS:  When I went to find a copy of the cover to paste into this review, I was a bit dismayed to see the final cover (above) rather than the advance readers' edition cover (a mix of the two below). The covers below aren't perfect, and they evoke a bit of a romantic comedy feel, which this book certainly is not. However, the final cover is so similar to the cover of The Headmaster's Wife as to render them almost interchangeable. I'm all for a recognizable theme in an author's covers, but these don't have enough distinct character to keep their own identities. For that reason alone I prefer the advance readers' cover.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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