One night, a crime of almost unimaginable brutality is committed against 15-year-old Jenny Kramer, a smart, well-liked girl in the small town of Fairview. After she is questioned by the police, Jenny’s parents make a simple decision: To give her ‘the treatment’, a new process of drugs intended to erase recent short term memory from trauma victims. But when Jenny tries to kill herself 8 months later, her parents are forced to come to terms with the fact that there may be something lingering deep in her mind. A local psychiatrist believes he can retrieve these lost memories, help Jenny heal, and perhaps even help catch the person who assaulted her. But the things he digs up in Jenny’s head may end up tearing Fairview apart as secrets come to life that threaten the foundations of her family, her support network, and her town.
First things first: All Is Not Forgotten is a dark book. Its first chapter discusses the sexual assault of Jenny in graphic detail, and those details would be returned to again and again over the course of the story. Indeed, reclaiming memories of those details is in large part the backbone of the story. Consider this a trigger warning for those who can’t deal with sexual assault, and that applies to this review as well. All Is Not Forgotten is difficult to review without discussing that assault.
All Is Not Forgotten has to walk an incredibly tight rope here. This is a story that is ostensibly about a rape survivor trying to recover her memories so she can heal… but which is actually about everyone around her. Jenny’s story here is fairly straightforward, and she never really knowingly intersects much with the thriller plot brewing in the background. What All Is Not Forgotten is interested in is exploring is the way a sexual assault affects a community, which puts Jenny in the uncomfortable position of ‘plot point’ for much of the story. From the parents who can’t believe their child could ever do such a thing to the witch hunt that ensues to the father’s need to assert his masculinity, the assault changes the dynamics in the community seemingly permanently. Author Wendy Walker has some interesting things to say about the aftermath of an assault, about healing, about the way we process trauma both as a survivor and as an outsider. But a lot of that gets a bit buried by thriller theatrics that sometimes feel crass, and which ultimately feel just a bit under-cooked. The tension between the disturbing subject matter, the distant, academic narration, and the simmering tension of the plot raises the stakes on even the smallest decisions at first, but as emotions soar, that delicate balance is upended.
So I confess: I am torn. All Is Not Forgotten manages to intrigue me and repel me in pretty much equal measure. The plot is loose and poorly paced, but the looping, clinical narration from psychiatrist Alan Forrester has a chilly, clinical feel that often kept me engaged when the plot was losing me. Overall, I am inclined to like the book, and Walker’s phenomenal job creating a narrator who is at once sympathetic and cruel, unapologetic and utterly confessional is a big part of what makes the book so interesting to me. The plot is weak, but the core story she has told is intriguing and, and once we officially meet our narrator, gripping. The climax, however, felt like a cop out, a whimper that follows the thunderstorm. For much of All Is Not Forgotten, it felt like I was watching a slow-motion train wreck, a series of good (or at least understandable) intentions colliding in the worst possible way to create a town-shattering accident, and that squirmy intensity was wonderfully set-up and maintained. Ignoring them makes the entire affair feel weirdly consequence-free, no matter how many seemingly-random events come together in those final pages. The climax to a thriller can be many things, but ‘slight’ probably isn’t the best one to aim for.
Alexander Morrison is a writer and educator in the Midwest. He divides his time pretty evenly between reading, writing, film, and Dark Souls, so you can tell he’s pretty well rounded. You can read his thoughts about love & sex in pop culture at Cinema Romantique.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by St. Martin’s Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.