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It's good enough to make me argue with myself
on June 4, 2016
The Memory of Us is a moving, at times heart-breaking inspirational romance by Camille Di Maio. There will be tears.
The story opens in 1961 in a small village in England when a woman in the process of committing suicide is called out to deliver a baby. It turns out she is a midwife, a sad, lonely woman who has given up on life. The delivery is difficult, the mother is dying and the priest arrives to perform last rites and he turns out to be someone from her past, her lost love Kyle McCarthy.
The story then goes back nearly twenty-five years to when she first met the young man who would one day be that priest. The narrative goes back and forth between that night in 1961 and the past, recalling the great romance between her and the man who becomes Father McCarthy.
It is a story of self-abnegation of the sort that really irritates me. Self-sacrifice and denial for the good of others is fine and dandy if they want it. Making decision for other people’s good without consulting them is just wrong. And of course, that is what this story is really about, about sacrificing all on the altar of Nobody-Asked-You.
Fortunately for the story, we are given enough of a back story to understand how our heroine Julianne (Does she deserve to be called that?) came to hold such shallow values and have so little trust in love. Her parents packed away her twin brother when he was born with a congenital developmental defect that left him blind and cognitively impaired. She was a teenager when she learned she had a brother and began sneaking out to visit him. Her parents never spoke of him and never visited him. From them, she learned that flawed people were unacceptable and unloveable, so when she is scarred, she erases herself from the life of those she loves, letting them all believe she was dead.
However, it is a moving story. I confess I cried when she made the stupidest, shallowest, most ridiculous decision anyone could possibly make. I felt pity for her, though a fair dollop of contempt as well. She infuriated me by being weak and having paltry values that ranked appearance over love. Of course, I would not be nearly so infuriated with her if the book were poorly written. I hope someday the author puts her considerable talents to tell the story of someone more likable.
Well, to be honest, she was likable until she threw herself a giant pity party and made decisions on behalf of her family that she had no right to make. On the one hand, someone who loved and was loved so deeply as she seems an unlikely person to be so dumb. But, on the other hand, her parents were tawdry examples of love, particularly of unconditional love. They were only capable of love with conditions, and with perfection. So, I kind of understand, sort of, just a little bit, mostly not. Because the Julianne we get to know before she becomes pathetic was a kind, brave and smart young woman. Even though the trauma she went through and the grief she may have felt were pretty bad, it just seems something so dumb for such a smart girl. On the other hand, she did show herself to be weak, to be afraid to be truthful when the truth hurt. As you can see, the book is good enough to have me debating with myself.
She does love a man studying in the seminary and still later loves him when he has become a priest, so you know there will be a fair amount of discussion of religious faith. It is not obtrusive and not chauvinistic about any particular faith. There are expressions of anti-Catholic bigotry by Julianne’s father, but they are not endorsed by Julianne in any way.
I enjoyed the book overall, even though Julianne/Helen, the main character drove me batty with her choices. If this book persuades even one dimwit who is preparing to sacrifice everything that makes her happy and gives her joy for someone else’s good without checking in with them to ask first, it will be not just entertaining, but perhaps a force for good.
I received a copy of The Memory of Us from the publisher via NetGalley.