” There is such pressure to remain true to the facts, and it seems so important somehow, so vital to preserve events and people as they really were. But he knows how memory can make a shattered dram come true. Sometimes he loses the strength and vigilance to stand up to its forces, and thinks it would do just as well to let it transform the past as it wishes. ” [5:143]
When Jacob Jameson succumbs to Alzheimer’s disease, his life becomes a mystery to himself. While most books about Alzheimer, which tops cancer and heart disease on the anxiety scale, are written from the outside looking in, The Wilderness remains within the ever-narrowing parameters of Jacob’s mind.
Relationships sketch themselves out in his memory—wife, child, children, husband, parent—and form lines that are either snaking towards him or snaking away. [14:358]
A retiring architect in his mid-60s, half Jewish, widower, he finds himself awash in his memories, as he manoeuvers them into stories. As these fragments emerge stroke by stroke, with no coherence, his story acquires a dangerous edge of uncertainty. His effort to sketch up a timeline of his life and place major events and people along it is thwarted by his diminishing mental faculty. What is left are random bits of reflection that oscillate between reality and imagination.
He wishes, more than anything, to not be drawn down by his situation. They say that on balance he is where they would expect him to be, that is, his demise is reassuringly predictable. [4:122]
The reading is tedious—as tedious as the protagonist is stifled. His memories, when treated alone, assert a sense of coherence. Different episodes, concerning his wife, who might have fallen off the ladder, and his mother, who has supposedly survived Holocaust, and his daughter, who has visited and announced pregnancy, don’t necessarily add up. Are they supposed to? Harvey concocts a graceful story, full of surreal dreams and nightmarish imaginings, of someone who fights to grasp the events that truly define his identity. These ever shuffling memories constantly rearrange to form a certain coherence that is not always reliable.
372 pp. [
Read/Skim/ Toss] [ Buy/Borrow]