Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Memory Palace, by Mira Bartok

Thought I was on a roll, had finally posted a few reviews at weekly intervals. So what happened?

Spring semester. Last semester I didn't have class responsibilities, I only audited. I feel like a classroom virgin again. Despite my struggles to get back in the rhythms of my fab creative writing program, it's great to be 'back in the saddle.'

The Memory Palace had glowing reviews and I anticipated a fine read. The premise is delicious and has all the necessary components of compelling memoir. As an adult, Mira Bartok is injured in a serious car accident. She can't think straight, suffers from cognitive deficits. While she struggles with a loss in brain function, she reconnects to her long-estranged, ailing mother, Norma. Both Mira and her sister cut off contact with Norma years before, going so far as to change their names, to protect themselves from Norma's abusive, paranoid and violent behavior. Their mother suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.

I don't envy Bartok's job as a writer because telling the true story of growing up in a crazy world is excruciatingly tough. When you grow up in an environment where everything and everyone around you is crazy your ability to form and process memories becomes impaired. From this, I know. So maybe that's why The Memory Palace had a disjointed, ephemeral feel. I read this a few months ago, and my own memory falters here, but what I remember is this: I was a frustrated reader. The narrative fragmented, slipped in and out of time. I tried to hang on, to stay engaged, but fought to keep my interest from slipping. Bartok's prose kept me at arm's distance. What I wanted: to feel more of a connection to the author, to hold onto the thread of her story in a more linear fashion.

Next up, something completely different -- Stuart O'Nan's "Last Night at the Lobster."

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