Title: The Weight of Memory
Author: Shawn Smucker
Major Themes: Fantasy, Memories
Synopsis: When diagnosed with cancer and told he has only weeks to live, Paul Elias takes his granddaughter back to his hometown to try to find answers to the questions that haunt him from his past.
Having read These Nameless Things last year, I knew I wanted to try some of Smucker’s other books. His writing style was gripping, his concepts seemingly abstract but very much on-point once I understood them, and his characters were well-formed, dynamic, and lovable. Enter The Weight of Memory, his release for this year. Well. I didn’t expect it to be nearly so…odd, I guess you could call it, as it was, and even though I expected deep, I didn’t imagine the kind of deep I’d be getting into. Again, as with the first book I read by him, I wasn’t sure even halfway through whether I’d end up loving or hating it. There was a deep revulsion in me toward a part of the story, and I didn’t know if the rest would ever have the chance to redeem that one part. I’m still not sure it has, but with every day that passes, I find my opinion of the story shifting—as if, the longer I let its memory steep in my brain, the more I start to think that it may just be another book of pure genius. Either that, or it’s semi-horrific fantasy—but somehow I can’t bring myself to believe that anymore.
Paul Elias feels like his life has dropped out from under him when his cancer diagnosis is confirmed. What is he to do—with a twelve-year-old granddaughter depending on him, being given the news that he likely only has weeks to live is the last thing he needs to hear right now. With both her parents gone, he’s the only one she has left—and he doesn’t have any close friends that would take her in in the event of his death. His only option, he decides, is to head back to the hometown from his boyhood years, and try to find someone there who would be willing to take care of her. But events don’t play out as he had hoped—his hometown is now nearly a ghost town, and people whisper strange stories about drownings in a nearby lake. Then, when his granddaughter claims to be seeing a woman visiting her over and over, he’s not sure who to believe. With his past coming back to him with much more vivid clarity than he’d like, can he sort through things and find a way to keep his granddaughter safe before something tragic happens?
In some ways, The Weight of Memory reminded me of my time reading Romeo and Juliet. I’m not even sure why; perhaps it is that both of them contain tragedy, although of different kinds. This book isn’t for the faint of heart; it’s dark. But yet—there’s light. Not as much as I might wish to have there, but some stories—some lives—aren’t that way. Some of us do walk through the “valley of the shadow” a lot more than others. And Paul Elias was one of those. He didn’t know everything that had happened in his past, or why it had happened the way it did—but his search was worthwhile in the end, because he was able to face the facts, and finally find healing.
There were several things I struggled with in this book. I found the dark/sad side a little hard to bear. I’ve always known—ever since becoming familiar with Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—that I cannot stand horror stories. This book wasn’t horror, but it was close enough to the genre for me. I didn’t like the “ghost” that kept appearing throughout the book—it really creeped me out, and I was thankful, over and over, to realize this was just a story, no more! Also, and this could just be a personal thing, but half of the story is written in first-person present-tense. I love playing with that writing style, but struggle reading it. I made it through—the story was worth it—but it did bug me at times.
There were many things to love, too! This book is achingly beautiful—the poetic words, the way the plot and characters were formed and portrayed. It’s a masterpiece on the writing front. I also loved that this made me think about my own memories, and about my ability to create memories—good or bad—to some extent. That part will stick with me for a long time, I think. I also loved that this features a grandfather/granddaughter relationship! There is romance, but it is remembered from the past—absolutely nothing in the present. I loved that change from many typical stories!
Would I recommend The Weight of Memory? Yes, and no. It was sad, but it was good. If you are up for a challenging read in the fantasy world, I’d recommend it. I’ve heard that Smucker writes books that people either love or hate, and I understand that. I still feel like I’m on the fence on that one! But I think he shares some deep lessons in his pages, and if we take time to listen, we can learn a lot.
I was given a review copy of this book, and this is my honest opinion of it.
WARNING: I can’t give specific chapter numbers, because there are none in this book. There are multiple mentions of drownings, and, as I mentioned earlier, a “ghost” appears multiple times. At the beginning of the story, there is a description of a party, and how four young people ended up outside in the dark together, then, later on, lied to their parents about where they were going, and spent the summer living together in a cabin. There is a mention that they did some making out, but not detailed. Several times it’s mentioned that a girl’s mother was on drugs and died from an overdose. Throughout the book, there is sickness related to cancer, and near the end of the book, a girl almost dies twice.
Reading Independently—Ages 15 and Above, Adults