Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Review: You Lost Me There

Summary: A dazzling debut that is at once a lightly erudite novel of ideas and a darkly charming love story set on an island off the coast of Maine-the perfect sophisticated summer read.

By turns funny, charming, and tragic, Rosecrans Baldwin's debut novel takes us inside the heart and mind of Dr. Victor Aaron, a leading Alzheimer's researcher at the Soborg Institute on Mount Desert Island in Maine. Victor spends his days alternating between long hours in the sterile lab and running through memories of his late wife, Sara. He has preserved their marriage as a sort of perfect, if tumultuous, duet between two opposite but precisely compatible souls.

But one day, in the midst of organizing his already hyperorganized life, Victor discovers a series of index cards covered in Sara's handwriting. They chronicle the major "changes in direction" of their marriage, written as part of a brief fling with couples counseling. Sara's version of their great love story is markedly different from his own, which, for the eminent memory specialist, is a startling revelation. Victor is forced to reevaluate and relive each moment of their marriage, never knowing is the revisions will hurt or hearten. Meanwhile, as Victor's faith in memory itself unravels, so too does his precisely balanced support network, a group of strong women-from his lab assistant to Aunt Betsy, doddering doyenne of the island-that had, so far, allowed him to avoid grieving.

Rosecrans Baldwin shows himself here to be a young writer bursting with talent and imagination who deftly handles this aching love story with sensitivity and unexpected maturity. You Lost Me There is a treasure of a book filled with beautiful, intelligent prose, a book that wears its smarts lightly and probes its emotions deeply. -- Riverhead Books

I'm really excited to say that YOU LOST ME THERE by Rosecrans Baldwin is the 9th book that I've read for the 2010 EW Summer Books Challenge that I'm hosting. That actually puts me at the Minnow Level! I aim to read a few more before the end of the summer, so I can honestly say that I'm not embarrassed by my participation level in this challenge -- unlike a few other ones!

Has this ever happened to you? You're reading a book and you know it's something special, but you're not exactly sure that you were "getting" all of it. Well, that's kind of how I felt about YOU LOST ME THERE. I really liked the book and I think Mr. Baldwin's writing style and storytelling abilities are wonderful, but I feel like some parts of this novel were way over my head. That's not to say that I didn't really like this novel, but I'm just not so sure that I am intellectual enough to appreciate it for all its worth. (I'm sure some of you are thinking about the title and a certain pun, but I'm not going to go there...)

I don't want that last paragraph to deter you from reading YOU LOST ME THERE because it is a very good book (and you might "get" more of the subtleties that I did.) I think Rosecrans Baldwin is a remarkably gifted writer, and I'm almost just amazed by his skills in this, his debut, novel. He captures so many relevant and thought-provoking themes about everyday lives; and his perceptions about love, marriage, memory, and grief are truly astute. I guarantee that YOU LOST ME THERE will cause you think on many different levels. And that's one of the reasons that I do recommend this book -- it's rare that a book can cause you think about your "reality" like this one does.

The basic premise behind YOU LOST ME THERE is that Victor, a doctor who studies memory and researches Alzheimer's disease, discovers some note cards that were written by his late wife. When he begins reading these cards, he realizes that his wife had very different ideas about the state of their marriage and their love than he remembered. Naturally, Victor is shocked by her perspective and his life begins to turn upside-down. He is suddently
forced to go back into his memory and painfully rethink their entire relationship.

As you can imagine, this book delves deeply into the topic of memory. As I read this novel, I not only began to question the characters' memories, but I actually began to question my own memories and perspectives of events in my past. I mean... I think I know what happened, but do we ever really know for sure? Would my version be the same as my husband's? Do I "choose" to remember things a certain way? Needless to say, this book really made me question the entire concept of memory. And, I have to tell you... I love that it made me think this much!

There were other themes explored in this novel which I also really appreciated. One of those themes was grief. I thought the author did a remarkable job of showing how Victor grieved after his wife died. On top of that, I also think this book explored a different type of grief for Victor when he discovered that his perceptions of their love life were very different from his wife's. I truly think YOU LOST ME THERE was a very special novel, in its own right, for how honestly it captured a character's grief.

By now, you are probably thinking that this novel was a huge downer. And, I have to be honest when I say that there were parts of this book that were rather depressing. But what I found so surprising about this story is that there still was so much humor -- I definitely wasn't expecting that from this book. I think it's truly a testament to Mr. Baldwin's writing style that he was able to write with so much wit and actually make me laugh while at the same time causing me to reflect so deeply on my own life.

I do think YOU LOST ME THERE would make a wonderful book club pick. As you can clearly see from my review, there are many thought-provoking topics to discuss. I also think with a book like this, a reader could only benefit from discussing it with others. Some of the topics you might want to discuss include loss, grief, therapy, marriage, relationships, friendships, responsibility, starting over, and of course memory.

If you are looking for a beautifully written novel that will also cause you to think (and remember), then I highly recommend YOU LOST ME THERE.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this novel.


Sandy Nawrot said...

I just saw the review for this in EW. You are so on top of things! I occasionally feel like I am too dumb for some books. I have to turn to the Internet for help noticing the things that went over my head. Way to go on this challenge. You rock!

S. Krishna said...

I totally understand what you mean about feeling like you're not getting a book. I still might give this one a try though, thanks for the review!

bermudaonion said...

You are totally rocking this challenge! I did notice that the title seemed to fit this book for you. If it's over your head, I'm sure it's WAY over my head.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I really want to read some books that include the topic of Alzheimer's, and this one certainly sounds thought-provoking!

Heather said...

"Has this ever happened to you? You're reading a book and you know it's something special, but you're not exactly sure that you were "getting" all of it."

You just described The Particular Sweetness of Lemon Cake for me! lol

You are doing a gread job with your challenge! And I agree w/ Kathy; if it's over your head, it is WAY over my head!