Debut from the point of view of a severely injured and memory-impaired ex-pianist, a character inspired by a real patient the author met while a caseworker.
Robert injured himself 14 years ago in a rock-climbing accident and now can play the Chopin mazurkas he remembers in long-term memory only with his right hand—the other is a stump. He lives in a home with other hard-luck cases, scratching out a fragmented life: he may have a son he doesn’t remember, and he thinks he’s still 23, though he’s really not sure how many years he’s been at the home. But at least he can fantasize about his caseworker and tinker out old melodies on a piano. The story is comprised of a journal Robert is assigned to keep, the aim being to help him focus on his thoughts and inappropriate sexual behavior—the whole edited by one of his caregivers. “So why, I ask her, do we scramble after the words, the images which, even if we get them right, are all but ignored by the world we try to communicate with. ‘Because,’ she says, ‘sometimes we get it right.’ ” We follow Robert through group therapy sessions, wild rides in his wheelchair, visits with Mom and Dad, and eventually through his assault on another patient in a misunderstood act of affection. Once the dust settles, Robert is off through Montana—his home is Missoula—to visit his son, who turns out to be real and in high school. Or is all this part of Robert’s therapy-fiction, a replacement narrative for his missing memory? “When they are too much inside my boundaries, I will escape into fantasies where I am not disabled, where my mind and body function normally, or into fantasies where it doesn’t matter that I am what I am.”
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest meets Memento.