I think the first time I ever encountered amnesia as a plot point was in, of all places, Trixie Belden Mystery Number Sixteen, The Mystery of the Missing Heiress. Janey, a young woman who’d been in a car accident and been found wandering aimlessly along Glen Road near the Belden farm, had amnesia–and who she was turned out to be the key to the mystery bedeviling Trixie and the other Bob-Whites.
Amnesia is actually not nearly as common as film and television (especially soaps, where it is one of the handiest tropes at hand, along with evil twins and so on) would make it appear to be, and it’s not as simple as the visual media make it appear. I had to do research on amnesia for Sleeping Angel, and it was very interesting to see how many different types there are, and what causes them–there’s physical trauma to the brain, and then there’s psychological, where something has happened to the person with amnesia that is so traumatic to their very identity that their mind erases it. So, bearing that in mind, I was curious to see how Sandra SG Wong handled the subject in her recent In the Dark We Forget.
I awake with a shiver. Full on, from toes to the tingling roots in my scalp.
Sharp corners dig into my shoulders, down the length of my spine, underneath one set of ribs. My feet twitch. I feel the backs of my shoes slip on something wet
Shoes. Why am I wearing shoes while I sleep?
I push up on my elbows, can’t hold myself up, fall back with a thump onto those sharp corners again. I blink up at a murky sky. My head aches, like I’ve taken a chill. I hear a soft rustling of leaves, a lone chirping bird. My ears are cold. A slight breeze blows grit into my cheek. My eyes widen. Why am I outside?
That sounds like a frigging nightmare, doesn’t it? Imagine waking up somewhere and not only not knowing where you are, but who you are and how you got there. Wong’s main character remembers nothing about herself–her name, where she lives, anything–and is soon found by a charitable passer-by who picks her up and takes her to a local police station, where the mystery around this woman slowly begins to unfold.
The challenge for a writer telling this kind of story is that the reader doesn’t find out anything about the character until the character does herself–which is incredibly hard to do; does the loss of memory affect the person’s personality, their character, who they are themselves? Do they behave differently? What do you do when you start finding out unpleasant things about yourself that you have to face, things you may not want to believe are true?
Wong handles it all with the accomplished skill of a master. We start caring about the character, curious to find out who she is and how this all happened, and Wong keeps the reader on the edge of their seat the entire time. As the truths begin to slowly play out–who she is, what she was involved in, what was going on in her life that somehow wound up with her unconscious in the woods–Wong deftly starts showing us flashes of who the character is, and wisely never gets into the psychological vs physical questions about the amnesia itself. Her main character is also unreliable–not just because of the amnesia, but as we find out ever more about her, and the kind of person she is, we also begin to have to wonder if she’s telling the truth about anything…everything…or something in between.
Beautifully written and dripping with suspense, I greatly enjoyed my first experience with the fiction of Sandra SG Wong, and suspect you will as well, Constant Reader. Get a copy, read it, and thank me later.