Review: Find Me

Find Me, by Laura Van Den Berg, is not what I expected it to be when I requested it. While on the surface a post-apocalyptic tale of America coping with an epidemic that makes you forget before eventually causing you to die (your brain literally melts away),  Find Me serves more as an exploration of memory, told from the point of view of a 19-year-old, aimless Stop & Shop cashier who spends most of her time drowning her memories in cherry-flavored Robitussin filched from her workplace before the sickness hits.

Find Me by Laura Van Den Berg

Find Me by Laura Van Den Berg

Joy, the main character, tells her story in a stream of consciousness fashion, passing from memory to memory as they come up, not as they happened. At first, I found Find Me a difficult book to read, if only because the rhythm of Van Den Berg’s prose is, in a word, erratic. But, by a third of the way through, I found myself drawn to both the meandering yet tight plot and to Laura Van Den Berg’s simple and yet perfect similes and metaphors. For example:

“I feel like my life is a tent someone has folded up and carried away.” p. 142
or
“In the light of the bathroom, I see lines on my face. They almost look like scars except I’ve never been cut by anything but time.” p. 254
Throughout this excellent debut novel, Van Den Berg (who has also written two short story collections) remains focused on the power – and impermanence – of memories and how these fleeting, yet rock-solid stories make up who we are. She explores what we choose to remember, what we choose to forget, what our own minds force us to forget to protect us, and what our minds make up to soften the horrors that life throws at us. I myself have found myself grasping at an elusive memory, and it is only seemingly minute sensory details that bring it to the forefront. Van Den Berg explores this as well:
“If I concentrated very hard, I could remember one detail about my mother. A scent, something close to fresh-cut grass. Now there was an image to fill in what memory had failed to catch. All I was missing was a name.” p. 33
 Constantly walking the line, Van Den Berg forces us to decide what is real. I kept expecting certain characters and events to be fevered dreams, created by the mind to cope with the present. And sometimes I was sure certain interactions were true, when indeed they turned out to be false, Joy admitting the falsity with “This is what I would say” or “That is how I imagined this would go.” In the end, the book forces you to question every one of your memories and to cherish them, even when you begin to wonder how many of them are truly real. And as Van Den Berg explains:
“What is a memory but the telling of a story?” p. 243

This is definitely an excellent read, despite my rocky start. It reminded my of Sarah Hall’s How to Paint a Dead Man, largely for the more unique storytelling technique and the author’s ability to use the perfect phrase to conjure up an image. It was also reminiscent of Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, whose story is told from first-person perspective with flash-backs that threaten to derail the plot, and yet manage, instead, to strengthen it. Plus, Patchett also includes an assured and arrogant scientist whose true purpose is a mystery at the beginning.

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