Moore’s latest novel (Heft, 2012, etc.) deals with the debilitating effects of memory loss on a father and his young daughter, using a computer program as a powerful aid for uncovering a seemingly lost family history.
Ada Sibelius is 12 when she first notices a change in her father, the brilliant head of a computer science laboratory in 1980s Boston: “She could not articulate what was different in his demeanor, but it triggered a deep-seated uneasiness in her.” Ada’s childhood hasn’t been normal; her home schooling takes place at the lab, where she goes each day with David, as well as through puzzles that test the knowledge Ada is constantly receiving. She has no friends her age: Liston, her father’s co-worker and close friend, serves as her only female confidante. So when David starts to forget things, even disappearing for hours at a time, to whom can Ada go for help? She’s reluctant to betray the secret of the only person who understands her: “They…looked like mirror images of one another; one larger, one smaller: a Rorschach test; a paper snowflake, unfolded." But then David’s condition begins to worsen rapidly, and Ada is forced to move in with Liston’s family. During this transition in custody, questions surrounding David’s past and identity begin to surface. But he’s no longer capable of explaining himself. Years later, Ada is working in Silicon Valley, and she still doesn’t have answers. What remains of her father before his decline is his life’s work, the language-processing program ELIXIR. David spent hours each day speaking with ELIXIR, teaching it new phrases. Can the program help Ada understand who David really was? While David’s mystery drives the story, this is an internally focused narrative that develops slowly through thoughts and observations rather than actions. This makes sense, as David's and Ada’s existences are so contained, but it takes patience to reach the point when the story becomes gripping. The biggest impact comes in the last chapter, which brings things together powerfully—if only chapters like this were intermingled throughout.
This is for readers who love a slow, methodical reveal.