Review of The Art of Forgetting, Wherein I Find a Chick Lit Book I Didn't Hate

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

I tend to shy away from anything that could be considered "chick lit" . As a lesbian in her mid-40s, the stories of young women in search of a man, a career, and the perfect size 2 don't really speak to me much. So when The Art of Forgetting by Camille Pagan appeared as an unsolicited review request in my mailbox, I almost put it right in the donation bin. But something stopped me from sending it back out into the universe to find a more receptive reader. I've always been fascinated by the mysterious workings of the human brain. There is so much that we don't understand yet about how it works, about how much of what makes us "us" is merely structural or chemical in nature. This novel, while not heavy on scientific explanation, does at least present a rather unique take on the friendship story.

The main character and narrator, Marissa, has always played second fiddle to her charismatic best
friend Julia. Ever since junior high, when the popular Julia chose the rather unassuming Marissa as her best friend, the two have been inseparable, but there has never been any question of who is the more dominant in the relationship. Now young adults, Marissa and Julia live in New York. Julia is a talented ballet dancer, and Marissa is an editor at a magazine. Despite her career success, Marissa is still insecure in many ways. She is in a safe, happy, but not super-passionate relationship. She worries about her weight, and her clothes, and she second guesses her instincts at work. One day, Julia is hit by a car crossing the street. While her physical injuries are minor, she sustains brain damage that affects her memory, mood, and personality. Suddenly, it is Marissa who must take the lead in their relationship, causing her to finally deal with her feelings about a long-lost love she gave up in college because Julia told her to.

As you can imagine, said long-lost love shows back up in their lives, Marissa has to decide if she wants to give it a try with him or stay with her loyal but slightly boring boyfriend. She has to figure out who she is without Julia there to define her. She has to decide whether to stay in her current job, or take a chance that could bolster her career. Meanwhile, she is forced to go back home to Michigan, where she also has to deal with her weight obsessed mother and the feelings of inferiority she learned from her. Basically, everything that I usually don't like in a book finds a home in The Art of Forgetting. But for some reason, this time it mostly worked for me. I didn't get annoyed by the constant focus on weight, looks, and size. I wasn't impatient with the "I have to choose between this man and that man, because obviously NO man is not an option" storyline. I felt empathy for Julia, even though she was annoying before the accident left her sort of bitchy. There was enough heart behind the writing that while this book won't make any of my top ten lists, it did keep my attention, and overall I enjoyed it.

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