Memory Plays Tricks

All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker (St. Martin’s Press, July 2016) is written the way a psychiatrist might write up a case study for popular consumption. The narrator, Doctor Alan Forrester, retrospectively relates events from multiple points of view after interviewing all of the subjects involved in those events. Alan is always very rational, very much in control. He’s the expert operator who manipulates experimental subjects to achieve predictable outcomes.

We learn that Jenny Kramer, a 15-year-old high school sophomore, was brutally raped during a drunken party at a boyfriend’s house (when the parents were away, of course). Fairview, Connecticut, is a well-to-do elite community, and Tom and Charlotte Kramer are members of the elite Fairview country club. Tom sells expensive automobiles to residents in Cranston, a neighboring town. Charlotte is a stay-at-home mom and a member of several prominent committees at the country club. Jenny has a ten-year-old brother named Lucas who attends summer camp and plays hockey. Jenny’s parents are traumatized by Jenny’s rape, of course, and they naturally seek ways to minimize the damage to their lives and reputations. In an attempt to help Jenny go on with her life, Jenny’s parents authorize the use of an experimental drug not unlike Rohypnol, the date-rape drug, that makes it impossible for Jenny to recall the events surrounding her rape.

Alan, the only licensed psychiatrist who both lives and practices in Fairview, has a busy private therapy practice. He also donates time to work with sociopathic criminals incarcerated at Somers, a state correctional facility. Alan Forrester possesses the knowledge and experience necessary to help Jenny recover her lost memories. After Jenny attempts suicide, Tom and Charlotte hire Alan to save their daughter by restoring her repressed memories of the night of Jenny’s rape.

Because Alan is also a father with a son Jenny’s age, he can personally empathize with and understand what Tom and Charlotte are going through. He understands a parent’s need to protect his or her child from bad things. Alan also helps Tom and Charlotte cope at the same time he tries to help their daughter recall the forgotten memories.

As part of my own thesis and dissertation research for degrees in educational psychology, I conducted experiments to measure the effects of alternate states of consciousness on recall. I found this novel not only fascinating, but a relatively accurate description of therapeutic techniques used to reframe traumatic events. Long-term memory is contextual, filed redundantly in multiple lobes of the brain and in other sensate parts of the body. Recall is dependent on returning to a state of consciousness similar to the one experienced when the memory was originally encoded. Sights, sounds, smells, and sensations can trigger changes in states of consciousness and significantly enhance recall. Have you ever heard a song and suddenly remembered who you were with and what you were doing and where you were when you first heard that song? Everyone has.

Wendy Walker has written an intriguing mystery rich with conflicting egos and multi-faceted characters who are neither all good nor all bad. Walker implants more than a few red herrings to throw bloodhounds and readers off the scent. There are a few twists you won’t see coming as the plot thickens.

Not everyone will appreciate the author’s style. Like memory itself, the story is not told in a straight line from beginning to end but jumps around a lot. Dialog is often a combination of quotes and italics that can seem confusing at times. But the story is a valuable experience worth a reader’s time and effort. I recommend All is Not Forgotten to anyone who enjoys a good mystery and also seeks to learn something new about human behavior.

 

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