Monday, April 24, 2017

The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin

From almost the time he could talk, Janie's son Noah has cried for his Mama- his Mama from before. He's violently afraid of baths and won't even wash his hands. And he knows things a four-year-old shouldn't be able to know: the plot of the Harry Potter books his mother has never read him; the names of dozens of different kinds of lizards that he's never seen. In Sharon Guskin's The Forgetting Time, we wonder, is Noah a savant or does he have memories from a previous life?

Janie struggles as a single mother with a child she loves but doesn't always understand. Any mother can tell you how frustrating a determined pre-schooler can be, but perhaps Noah is more than that. As Noah becomes increasingly inconsolable, Janie will try anything, see any doctor, to help her son. When her search leads her to one psychologist researching past lives and the possibility that some children can remember, she is skeptical, but out of other options.

This was a beautiful, and beautifully written, book. Noah's sweet little personality makes the reader hunger for a way to help him and Janie is every mother who has ever wanted to help her struggling child. This book is an interesting exploration of the idea that maybe this life isn't everything. Maybe there is more than we can possibly understand. Without getting into religion at all, this book poses the questions that have been asked since the beginning of time: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where will I go next?

I adored this quote following Janie's observation of a waitress with a YOLO tattoo on her shoulder:

You Only Live Once. That's what people said, as if life really only mattered because it happened only one time. But what if it was the other way around? What if what you did mattered more because life happened again and again, consequences unfolding across centuries and continents? What if you had chances upon chances to love the people you loved, to fix what you screwed up, to get it right?

To me, that is such an interesting concept. We often think that life is more precious because we only get one shot at it, but what if we should be more careful with our actions because those consequences may reverberate through several reincarnations? At one point near the end of the book, Janie looks around at a group of strangers on the subway and wonders if maybe she was related to some of them in a previous life:

Perhaps one of them had been her mother. Or her lover. Or her son, the dearest of the dear. Or would be, next time around. So many lifetimes, it stands to reason that they were all related. They'd forgotten, that's all.

Now doesn't that make you think differently about the people around you? Maybe it will motivate you to treat others a little more kindly and with a little more compassion.

Really, what a beautiful concept.

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