TOWARD AMNESIA by Sarah Van Arsdale


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 A young woman flees her home and erases her former identity in an effort to forget her female lover in this evocative but slim first novel by poet Van Arsdale. It's been months now since our unnamed narrator, a research scientist in Durham, North Carolina, first suffered the shock of abandonment by her lover, Libby, who fell in love with another woman. Still, the scientist can't stop obsessing about Libby, scrutinizing every word exchanged between them, driving by Libby's house twice a day, and unloading her grief on long-suffering friends. Happening upon a definition of global amnesia in Williamson and Wescott's General Medica (``Sometimes results from emotional trauma, travel in a motor vehicle, immersion in hot or cold water, or increased cerebrovascular flow. Patient is frequently bewildered, and persists in asking questions about past events. On formal examination, patient indicates intact immediate recall but severely impaired long-term memory''), she is seized with a desire to experience her own self-willed amnesia by abandoning her present life, trading in her Toyota for a red 1950 Bel-Aire, renaming herself Virginia, and hitting the road. She ends her journey on a tiny Minnesota island in time to rent a cottage for the summer, where she can drown her painful memories in icy lake water, befriend her fellow island refugees, and slowly but surely, as summer fades and winter settles in, recover her sense of self and her faith in the future. Throughout, Van Arsdale's talent as a poet is evidenced in vivid images of nature and moments of simple pleasure--images that haunt the reader well after story's end. Still, this debut is frustratingly brief, and as emotionally elusive, in the end, as its heroine.

Pub Date: Jan. 3rd, 1996
ISBN: 1-57322-017-5
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Riverhead
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1995