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The Story of Forgetting: A Novel Paperback – April 7, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Patrick Lawlor reads the precocious Block's first novel with two markedly different voices for its two protagonists. The hunchbacked, memory-obsessed Abel Haggard is given a broad Southern accent that remains remarkably precise, considering its exaggerated pitch, and Seth Waller, the teenager trapped in an unhappy family, in search of an explanation for his mother's mysterious illness, receives a much flatter, less remarkable, even reading. Lawlor's technique swiftly and easily divides the book's two halves, but his Abel rapidly grows painful to listen to as he is too exaggerated to be much more than a stereotype. Sounding neither convincing nor mellifluous, Lawlor's Abel holds back this otherwise solid audiobook. A Random House hardcover (Reviews, Feb. 4). (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School—This riveting novel features well-drawn characters engaged in the epic struggle of finding purpose and meaning in life. Early-onset/familial Alzheimer's disease (EOA) is the launching point for an exploration of memory and the human condition. Fifteen-year-old Seth and 70-year-old Abel alternate as sympathetic narrators of their family's stories. Although they don't meet until the end of the book, the connection between them becomes apparent early on. When Seth's mother is diagnosed with EOA, he assigns himself the task of learning all he can about the disease. Meanwhile, Abel reflects on his past, including his family's struggles with EOA, as he resists encroaching suburban sprawl and waits for the return of his long-gone daughter. The author effectively interweaves several writing styles: historical fiction (the imagined origins of the disease in a medieval English village and its subsequent spread to America); scientific inquiry (explanations of genetics and psychological studies of the brain); fantasy (tales of the mysterious land of Isidora, an alternate world known only to EOA families); Abel's reflective reminiscences; and Seth's coming-of-age in contemporary Texas. The narrators tell painful, funny, heartbreaking stories in authentic voices. An author's note indicates that the novel is semiautobiographical and provides resources for further information about the disease. In addition to being an excellent read, this book would be a wonderful supplement to a psychology class studying memory, or a biology class learning about genetics.—Sondra VanderPloeg, Colby-Sawyer College, New London, NH
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 333 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (April 7, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812979826
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812979824
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,051,082 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 41 people found the following review helpful By R. A. Taylor VINE VOICE on April 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The Story of Forgetting by Stefan Merrill Block is one of my favorite reads for 2008. The author's use of words to weave a story of two very different people is absolutely fantastic. Although Abel Haggard and Seth Waller are two very different characters, both in age and in social background, their stories are compelling and I could believe that both these men were real. Amazingly enough, the scientific parts of the book were very interesting to me as I am generally not interested in novels about science.

The Story of Forgetting is about familial early-onset Alzheimer's disease and how it affects those with the disease and those people close to them. Seth Waller is a young teenager losing his mother to the horror of this disease, and losing the balance of the family he once had. Abel Haggard is an elderly reclusive man, living in the old family homestead, passing his days with memories of what he once had and how it was lost. Both characters are completely drawn and fleshed out so that it is easy to picture them in my mind. This story will stay with me a long time.

My mother suffered from dementia before her death and I understand the frustration of trying to deal with someone who is no longer the person you know and love. The Story of Forgetting is a brilliant book, I would recommend it to anyone dealing with Alzheimer's disease and to just anyone who enjoys a compelling, beautifully written story
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Susan Tunis TOP 1000 REVIEWER on April 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
For reasons inexplicable, it took me weeks to pick up this novel and read the first sentence, but once I did I was hooked. I don't know what my problem was, but kudos to Stefan Merrill Block, because he drew me right into his story from the first pages.

The structure of the novel is that it jumps back and forth between two different characters, two different stories. The first is 68-year-old Abel Haggard, a modern-day hermit living exactly as he did decades ago on the distant outskirts of Dallas. Abel is basically reviewing his life inside his mind and agonizing over the mistakes he has made. Through his recollections you learn about his one true love, and how he lost everything he had. Now he's waiting for something... and trying to hang on by his fingertips to the life he has.

The second story revolves around 15-year-old geek, Seth Waller. I'm a 39-year-old woman, but I can't tell you how much I related to Seth. My social skills are considerably better, but we're both science nerds and were high school outcasts. Through Seth, we learn the story of his mother's diagnosis with early-onset Alzheimer's in her mid-thirties. As painful as it is to watch her decline through Seth's eyes, it doesn't touch the sadness of the strained relationship he has with his father. Scenes between the two of them broke my heart, as each tried to deal in his own way with tragedy. Seth copes by embarking on a "scientific study" of his mother's illness.

While these two equally compelling narratives are unfolding, there are two more narrative threads weaved throughout the novel. One is the story of the orgin of the Alzheimer's mutation that plagues Seth's mother. It starts with patient number one and moves forward through history.
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Format: Hardcover
In his ambitious debut novel Stefan Merrill Block shows off the wide range of his talent. "The Story of Forgetting" combines elements of science, history, and fable into four storylines that weave together to tell a single story. And it works, for the most part. I can see how some may have been turned off by the quirky nature of Block's storytelling or grown bored with the genetic history storyline, but I have a feeling that the majority of literary fiction fans will enjoy Block's novel just as much as I did.

The first storyline concerns Abel, an elderly hunchback living in isolation and haunted by the ghosts of his brother and sister-in-law and the daughter that ran away from home never to be seen again. He bustles around his dilapidated house in his failing body, desperately filling the void around him and trying to avoid stillness that might lead to reflection on how he got to this lonely point and whether or not it is deserved. The modern world is creeping up on all sides of his property, showing Abel just how little use the world can make of an outdated person like him, and his neighbors are trying to force him out so they can raise their property values. But Abel is holding onto the hope that someday his daughter might come looking for him, and he wants to be waiting when she does.

Second is the story of Seth, your typical gawky, angular teen and a stereotypical nerd and social outcast. His mother has recently been placed in a home after a nasty fall and a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer's disease - an extremely rare genetic disorder that Seth, who may someday be a victim of the same disease, becomes obsessed with researching. In truth, his research is equal measures avoidance and an attempt to get closer to his family.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Terry Battles on May 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The Story of Forgetting by Stefan Merrill Block tells the tale of devastation of a familial form of Alzheimer's from two perspectives: one, seventy year old Abel and the other, the teenaged Seth. In the end, the common thread of their stories is revealed in a quiet, reflective, and touching way.

Surprising to say, given the young age of the author, it is the elder voice which is more convincing. The memories shared by Abel and the descriptions of his current reflective life resonate more genuinely than does young Seth's "empirical investigation" to learn about his mother's disease. The voice of Seth is often too mature in tone and too sophisticated in language (no matter how precocious he may be). In addition, the basis of his "investigation" is a bit of stretch from my perspective. The most credible passages of Seth's occur early in the book, when he describes his mother's first symptoms of illness and the actions and reactions of his which result.

As a physician, it is hard for me to admit, but the passages in which Seth offers summaries of research and scientific explanations detract from the emotional flow of the book. They were a signifciant distraction rather than enhancement. Similarly, some of the first person accounts in Seth's investigation seem stiff and unnatural, created solely to be sure that certain perspectives on the disease are communicated to the reader.

Abel's story is told much more convincingly and lyrically than Seth's. The complexity and human frailty of his story go beyond the center piece disease of the book's theme. It is one aspect of a multi-layered story, though it is a devastatingly important aspect. In fact, it is Abel's description of the final outcome that is most moving, most revealing.
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