If you have read my online journal for a while, you’ll notice that even though I interview poets and share my writing (poetry, short stories, excerpts, drabbles, etc.), one thing I don’t do that a lot of readers and writers do is write reviews of books I’ve read. I don’t know if it’s an old hang-up from my elementary school days or if it’s because I think book recommendations are so subjective, but I don’t really read or write reviews generally speaking.
However, recently, I began reading again. I started with Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone and I was blown away not only by the twists and turns in that story but how remarkably imaginative it was. I felt like I was inside of the head and memories of the main character. It was a thriller in a sense, but the way it was written, I felt like I was traveling through the past and made-up worlds of the twins the book was about. It was almost dizzying the whiplash Johnstone put the readers through by exploring the extravagantly thought-out worlds these two created within their childhood home.
The author found a mesmerizing balance between flashbacks and present-day, and somehow, she managed to make the reader feel immersed in the past just as much as we felt entangled in the present.
At the same time that I purchased Mirrorland, I also bought The Shimmering State by Meredith Westgate. It dismantles the opioid crisis by way of a drug the author invented known as Memoroxin – a drug that allows the user to go back into the past experiences of an individual. The drug is originally to help those with mental illnesses such as depression remember and become immersed in good memories to counteract depression’s dark grip. It’s also used for patients with Alzheimer’s. Quickly, it becomes abused by people looking to escape.
The book itself floats between different perspectives, past and present, but the style of the writing is consistent throughout. I was explaining it on Instagram to a bookseller and stated that even though it’s technically a science-fiction, coming-of-age story, it feels like it’s written with a light hand. There are phrases that are simply poetry. Passages that make you feel as though you are floating, untethered, in these characters’ minds. I just finished a passage where the two main characters, a Los Angeles ballerina and a New York City-based photographer who moves to L.A. under the guise of taking care of his grandmother, are lying in bed at a rehabilitation center and exchanging scraps of memories.
Memories which the Center (the rehabilitation facility they’re at for Memoroxin addiction) has not destroyed. But these memories are disjointed fragments and somehow the exchange feels as fragile as a thin, gossamer fabric floating in the wind. Like a Janet Echelman art exhibit.
Their words are sparse yet poetic. Scraps of imagery. Something about the prose transcends what you would expect from a science fiction novel. I’m absolutely enchanted by Westgate’s writing style. The story captivates me, but honestly, the concept of the fleeting nature of memories and the fluidity between past and present has long intrigued me – predating my grandmother’s and godmother’s diagnoses with Alzheimer’s. My favorite movie is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and honestly, I feared this book would regurgitate some of the same themes as that movie. I just got to the second part of the book and have found it’s a wholly unique story, and it is written in an inimitable style.
Of course, this is all coming from an author who doesn’t like reviewing books. I’m absolutely dazzled by the books I’ve been reading lately, and honestly, reading again has reignited my love for writing.