Memory Wall [Review]

reviewed by Amy Vecchione

Memory Wall
Anthony Doerr
New York: Scribner, 2010, 2011
978-1-4391-8284-0 (pbk.)
267 pages, $14.00 (trade paperback)

Idaho’s own Anthony Doerr is widely recognized for being a distinctive author of literary fiction. His newest book, a collection of short stories entitled Memory Wall, exceeds expectations by carrying the reader into terrifically imagined stories. Each short story showcases a powerfully vivid yet cerebral plot, evocative of experiences common in this modern era. The stories address issues of our contemporary global society such as aging, memory, complex family structures, and infertility. Doerr draws conclusions in each story that are uncanny and unpredictable, leaving the reader to progress through each as quickly as possible to find out what will happen.

In the title story, “Memory Wall,” Doerr takes us to Cape Town, South Africa, in the year 2024. The main character’s memories have been recorded onto a sort of cartridge machine that allows her play them over and over again, losing herself in her own past. Her memory is so poor that she needs a wall of reminders to keep her up-to-date on her current situation. The tour that the reader takes to the ending of this story is enthralling.

Another story, “Afterworld,” speaks to the pain experienced during the exodus of individuals in Germany to concentration camps before World War II, and the way later generations contextualize the events. The main character is bound to her past, hallucinating her time in an orphanage, and some other strange places, during episodes of epileptic seizures. She is living in a surreal state of liminality. The following exchange between the survivor and her grandson represents the central theme of Memory Wall:

“That’s in your head,” Robert says. He twirls his father’s car keys around his index finger. “The doctor says what you see is only real in your head.”

“Real in my head?” whispers Esther. “Isn’t everything that’s real only real in our heads?” (211)

Doerr asks readers to consider this throughout the book, as each story’s characters seem to live within their own heads crafting their own interesting realities. This fantastic theme is reminiscent of a plethora of David Lynch television series and movies, such as Twin Peaks, Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire, in which the main characters are all living within a reality of their own creation.

Memory Wall consists of a series of stories which transport us from our everyday lives into stories that help us understand our own experiences. This deep, wonderful, and transformative book is highly recommended for all libraries. Mature audiences will enjoy this book, as will all fans of intelligent, literary fiction.

Amy Vecchione is a Reference and Instruction Librarian at Boise State University’s Albertsons Library.


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