A young woman’s personality is the result of a startling experimental procedure, leaving her to struggle with the question of who she really is.
This debut novel by multigenre fabulist Morrow is a haunting exploration of memory, identity, and mortality set in a vaguely sinister alternate-reality Montreal circa 1925. In this rendering, scientists have discovered a peculiar method of extracting memories from people and delivering them into “Mems,” half-alive creatures whose purpose is to experience the memory over and over again in a fortress called the Vault until they die. But not our narrator, oddly enough. The story is told by a 19-year-old Mem who identifies as "Elsie," though her true designation is “Dolores Extract No. 1,” meant to keep the memory of a car crash in 1906 from troubling her “source,” Dolores Shepherd. But Elsie is a fully formed individual, capable of forming her own memories, the only Mem who's been allowed to live independently outside the Vault. Repeatedly she tells us, “I am a memory. Now I suppose I’ll live like one,” as she struggles with her place in this strange world. Called back to the Vault, Elsie learns that because Dolores has reached her maximum number of Mems, she is in danger of being “reprinted,” wiping out her unique self. Protected by a kindly professor and his wife, Elsie encounters broken Mems, fractured Sources, and a smitten scientist during her evolution into a new kind of being. In studying memory, Elsie becomes even more aware of the damage resulting from this cruel practice. “What kind of people are we if we can’t traverse the landscape of our own memories?” she asks. “What kind of people do they become who refuse?” These philosophical explorations ultimately culminate in a disturbing clash between Elsie and Dolores prime. With her dizzying concept, richly imagined narrator, ornate setting, and first-rate storytelling, Morrow offers an epiphany for readers of speculative fiction with echoes of ideas explored in films like Blade Runner and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
The defiant story of an impossible enigma who only yearns to be a real girl.