12.29.2006

HH Com 571

Every morning, 30-year-old Sydney Thomsen reminds her father, Craig, that she is his daughter. She's traveled across the country from Nevada to spend time with him for the first time in 23 years, trying to get to know the dad who glows golden in her memory. No easy task
with a man with short-term memory loss from drug and alcohol abuse. "It's like a record skipping," he says. And Syd sees what he means as he remembers the name of their first dog when they were hippies in the Nevada desert but not what happened when the boat he claimed
squatters' rights to burned to ash in the Atlantic. He remembers showing Syd around the gold mine where he worked but not why he left the family without a word. (surely an event 23 years in the past doesn't still qualify as short term memory loss)

Away from home, away from her husband of 10 years (whom she has just told she is pregnant), Syd tries connecting with her dad while meeting vaguely remembered aunts and uncles. Southern relatives, as foreign as the humidity draping everything in Florida, tell her stories that don't fit what she heard growing up. Her dad is at once the beautiful myth and a haggard old man she still recognizes. As she struggles to match up all the versions of a man who is now practically a blank slate, she finds herself questioning her own history and the fidelity
of her own memory.

Why is she there? For the first time in 23 years she's there, but you don't say why. That's the precipitating event that can catch and hold our interest. There are an increasing number of books in this realm, specifically Karen Karbo's memoir of her father The Stuff of Life and Jodi Varon's exquisite Drawing to an Inside Straight

This kind of literary meditation doesn't lend itself to a hair on fire hook, but you still have to give us a sense of plot and conflict.

2 comments:

Shannon said...

It's possible that he doesn't remember leaving 23 years ago if there's a specific point where his memory stops. It has happened in the past. Author, if you haven't read them already, I would recommend reading Oliver Sack's books on memory. There's a terrific and tragic chapter in one of them about a man in his 60s with short term memory loss who doesn't remember anything past the age of 21 (and cannot form new memories). Also, the movie Momento isn't terribly scientifically accurate, but it's an excellent example of how to characterize a character with limited identity.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I love Sachs's books. What the dad in my book has is Korsokov/Wernke syndrome (forgive me if I spelled that wrong). And yes, it started with a distinct break in his late 20s. Everything from that point forward is the record skipping. There's no telling from day to day what he will remember from the period since the break or for how long. But his memories from before the break are perfectly normal and clear. I obviously didn't make that clear in my hook.

Per Miss Snark's other question, the reason she is staying with him in Florida after 23 years is because she finally found him. Finding him, finding out he's even still alive, is the precipitating event in the book.

I loved Memento. It was one of the things that spurred me to write this (it's based in large part on my finding my own father under these circumstances) because the movie helped me understand what that memory loss might be like from the inside.