Memorentia is constantly surprising and thus thoroughly entertaining.
It would be hard to find a person who hasn’t looked back on the mistakes of his life, both real and perceived, and wondered how he could atone for them. Memorentia, by William LeGro, takes this heart-wrenching journey with the young, resilient, but deeply troubled Ezra as he wonders: Is it ever actually possible to make up for what you have lost? And when is it OK to let go of the past?
With an explosive opening that feels like it could be the book’s very climax, Memorentia thrusts into the lives of two brothers, Zachariah and Ezra, at a dramatic turning point. Their grandmother Orah is a resident at Heritage Prison (as she calls her nursing home), mourning her independence among other devastating losses. Their mother lives in another state and seems to have opted out of seeing the day-to-day reality that Orah and the young men live. Ezra, haunted by guilt about a debt he believes he owes his brother, helps Orah escape to what she is certain will be a better life on the outside, where Ezra tells her, “you can live your life the way you want to.” Unsurprisingly, caring for a ninety-year-old—who swerves between total lucidity and dementia’s confusion and anger—proves more complex than the earnest Ezra anticipated, and than the seamless escape would suggest. As the omniscient narrator notes forebodingly, “It was too simple. Too easy.”
The dramatic opening may give the worrying impression that the ensuing story is just as exhaustingly action-packed, but instead it unfolds at a far more absorbable pace after the book’s central conflict is so quickly established. LeGro handles the excruciatingly awkward or painful issues that inevitably arise between Ezra and Orah as they strike out on their own with sensitivity and unblinking realism. How does a young man talk to his tenacious grandmother about her incontinence? By just barreling ahead and doing it, even though it’s hard. LeGro and Ezra seem to share this determination to be straightforward. The tension of just when and how things will go seriously wrong crackles as the author lingers in the minute details of how Ezra and Orah go about getting used to their new life together, traversing the West Coast in a Winnebago, Orah trying to hold onto her sense of self and Ezra searching for answers that might help him heal from past traumas. When Ezra develops a love interest, the trio makes for an unlikely, but very charming, kind of family.
Memorentia is constantly surprising and thus thoroughly entertaining. The roles of the brothers—who’s well and who’s ill, who’s responsible for whom—is nebulous, particularly as the narrative stretches back to examine their childhood, when Ezra was “peaceful in his strangeness,” and Zach felt alone. As Ezra journeys through his memories, it’s hard to pinpoint the precise origin of the troubles he faces in the present day. LeGro makes this point gracefully, without hitting readers over the head with a clumsy statement about the complexity of reality and of cause-and-effect in family relationships. He does so similarly when Ezra’s burgeoning affair illustrates the fraught, but potentially trauma-healing, nature of love and attachment.
There is, mercifully, no happy ending, but rather the inconclusive state of being that is raw and real. This is a highly believable and soulful book.
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