Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Remember Me Like This

Remember Me Like This by Bret Anthony Johnston
Random House: 5/13/2014
Hardcover, 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9781400062126

A gripping novel with the pace of a thriller but the nuanced characterization and deep empathy of some of the literary canon’s most beloved novels, Remember Me Like This introduces Bret Anthony Johnston as one of the most gifted storytellers writing today. With his sophisticated and emotionally taut plot and his shimmering prose, Johnston reveals that only in caring for one another can we save ourselves.
Four years have passed since Justin Campbell’s disappearance, a tragedy that rocked the small town of Southport, Texas. Did he run away? Was he kidnapped? Did he drown in the bay? As the Campbells search for answers, they struggle to hold what’s left of their family together.
Then, one afternoon, the impossible happens. The police call to report that Justin has been found only miles away, in the neighboring town, and, most important, he appears to be fine. Though the reunion is a miracle, Justin’s homecoming exposes the deep rifts that have diminished his family, the wounds they all carry that may never fully heal. Trying to return to normal, his parents do their best to ease Justin back into his old life. But as thick summer heat takes hold, violent storms churn in the Gulf and in the Campbells’ hearts. When a reversal of fortune lays bare the family’s greatest fears—and offers perhaps the only hope for recovery—each of them must fight to keep the ties that bind them from permanently tearing apart.
My Thoughts:  

Remember Me Like This by Bret Anthony Johnston is a highly recommended novel about a family in crisis.

Justin Campbell disappeared 4 years ago at age 11 in southern Texas. Since that time the Campbell family (parents Eric and Laura, grandfather Cecil, and younger brother Griffin) has been coasting, and slowly disintegrating under their stress and grief. They have become alienated from each other and themselves. Eric has been lying about his actions and having an affair. Laura has been working at a dry cleaners and putting in many hours volunteering at a local aquarium and tending a sick dolphin. Griffin is now 14 with his first girlfriend.

Everyone knew what they had endured, and what they had lost. "More and more Eric had the sorry sense that he and Laura were both just treading water, trying to stay afloat until Griff graduated high school. A good husband. A good father. He only knew he’d filled those roles at one time, though he could hardly recall it now." (Location 250)
Cecil is more taciturn about his emotions "This was another thing he’d learned over the years: Sometimes a man’s obligation was to tell his family what he knew of life, but more often his duty was to keep it to himself." (Location 479)

Then, miraculously, Justin is found in nearby Corpus Christi. The family must rally together to help him recover, but this requires that they confront their own issues. By all outward appearances Justin seems fine and doesn't talk about his four year ordeal but he is clearly suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. Clearly, the family’s development is arrested, too. Meanwhile his abductor, Dwight Harrell, is charged and released on bond, which sends the individuals in the family into a tail spin.

This is a capable and well-crafted debut novel by Johnston. He explores the themes of family bonds and guilt in a family that must either rebuild their lives and connections or find a new way to live in their fractured current state of existence. He allows much of the inner turmoil of some of the family members to boil and bubble over as they contemplate their next moves.

While I enjoyed Remember Me Like This quite a bit, I had a few problems with it. Opening with Eric's affair was an immediate turn-off for me. I comprehend the implications of his actions,  but it didn't need to be thrust to the forefront of the beginning of the novel. Then, after Justin comes home it seemed like there was just endless inner dialogue going on. I guess I was expecting more outward sharing and more exposure of the events that happened and how Justin could be healed along with the family.

If you like slow moving family dramas with lots of emotional inner contemplation/monologues from family members then this is a good choice for you. It's well written which should help your enjoyment enormously.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Random House for review purposes.

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