What Alice Forgot and Ugly Relationship Creep

Sometimes I’m surprised at the books that grab me.

A few weeks ago, I read What Alice Forgot. It’s a good book, but not a great one–and yet I’ve found myself constantly returning to its themes since I finished it.

The novel revolves around Alice, a sweet 29-year-old who is crazy in love with her husband Nick and expecting their first child. But then Alice bumps her head and comes to on the floor of a gym (where she never goes), and finds that she’s actually a 39-year-old mother of 3 who’s in the middle of divorcing the man she’s come to hate.

Alice’s concussion has erased her memory of the past decade. She doesn’t know what’s happened to her these past 10 years, or who she’s become, or what happened to her happy marriage. She’s about to find out.

At its heart, What Alice Forgot is about how good relationships go bad. Researchers agree that marriages–like Alice and Nick’s–don’t end in a moment. Marriage expert John Gottman says, “Most marriages die with a whimper, as people turn away from one another, slowly growing apart.”

In What Alice Forgot, we don’t see Alice and Nick slowly grow apart. We don’t see the ugliness creep into their marriage over time. We see the relationship blissfully happy–and then broken. We don’t see the middle. And the contrast is jarring.

Because we don’t see the middle, we can’t tell when he stops kissing her goodbye in the morning, or that she begins to nag him more and more, or that the sarcasm in his voice takes on a cruel edge. We’re left to wonder how it all went wrong.

Maybe it’s because I just found out the marriage of someone close to me is coming to a sad end. Maybe it’s because of the transition I’m experiencing in my own home life right now. But I’m surprised at how this book has me thinking hard about the road I’m on in my own relationship.

It’s the little things that make (or break) a relationship: the tone of your voice, how you bring up touchy subjects, whether or not you bother to make small talk. Little things.

I’m thinking about the little things in my own relationship right now, and where they’ll carry me in ten years time.

Recommended Reading About Making Relationships Work:

The Best Book You’ve Never Heard of on Making Marriage Work. Happy marriages have a lot in common. Here’s how to look at your own relationship through the eyes of a marital therapist (and avoid the dreaded 4 horsemen of the marriage apocalypse).

The Magic 5 Hours for a Successful Marriage. What separates successful marriages from failing ones?  Surprisingly, the answer is five hours a week.

No Wonder They Call It the Marriage Killer. You’ll be surprised at the culprit that’s responsible for more divorces than infidelity or financial woes.

What book has really grabbed you—to your own surprise?

Books mentioned in this post:


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  1. What an interesting concept for a story — unusual and yet it perfectly mirrors the experience I have had over and over again of knowing a married couple several years ago, losing touch because we moved or something, and then hearing later that they are separated or divorced or meeting them again and seeing that all is clearly not well. I’m left wondering each time, “How did that happen?” And the answer is usually something like what you described — they stopped doing the right things and allowed themselves to fall into lazy and destructive ways.

    Such a sobering reminder to make the extra effort and to remember to be what God wants me to be as a wife and, well, just PERSON. Thanks, Anne.

  2. Totally agree that the little things make a huge difference. I just posted today about how people might think my husband and I are unhappy because we don’t spend much time doing things together, we’re usually apart in the evenings, and we rarely go on dates. But the little moments are so full of love and affection, and we do prioritize each other in ways that might not be obvious to outsiders, so it makes us both really happy.

  3. Tim says:

    The premise for What Alice Forgot seems familiar. Amnesia stories come along fairly often I suppose. The idea of using it to explore the breakdown of a relationship is interesting, though. That said, I tend to avoid books on failing marriages. Movies too. I see too much of it at work, and rather than be diversions I think those books and movies make me think too much of real life. I remember long ago watching Kramer v. Kramer when it first came out and liking it a lot. I don’t think I could sit through it now.

    To answer your question about books I’ve enjoyed, one that captivated me unexpectedly (although I did expect it to be good, I just didn’t know how powerful it really is) is Karen Swallow Prior’s Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, which I reviewed last week at my place ( http://timfall.wordpress.com/2012/12/05/hooked-by-booked-literature-in-the-soul-of-me-a-review/ ). This is easily the most important book I read in the second half of 2012. (The most important in the first half of 2012 is Darrell Johnson’s Discipleship on the Edge – and Expository Journey Through the Book of Revelation. For Booked and Edge, they tie for the year.)

    Today I’m reviewing another one that I think a lot of people will find engaging and challenging, Keri Wyatt Kent’s Deeply Loved. My wife and I both read this one.


    • Anne says:

      Tim, I do the same thing in avoiding themes that I just don’t think I could (or should) handle at this point in my life–even in a work of fiction.

      And I put Booked on my to-read list after reading your review 🙂

  4. Sarah Beals says:

    We had one year when three sets of friends were on the brink of divorce. We went to college with these people and would NEVER had imagined that they could let their marriage erode to that point. It is sobering…if it can happen to them, it can happen to us. Eph. 4:32 is the verse I go back to over and over again for our own marriage. And I love when you can’t get a book out of your mind, but you ruminate over the ideas.

  5. Lisa Rose says:

    Divorce lawyers are the busiest just after Christmas … these books are a timely reminder of that!

    BTW my Nanna lost her memory during childbirth and woke to find she had a new baby and a toddler. She ended up divorced from their father and married my Grandad many years later. Most of her memory returned over the years but now in her late 80’s she still has patches that just never came back. It was a shame as she was quite the gifted pianist but never felt she played the same after her memory loss.

    • Anne says:

      Oh my goodness, I can’t believe that really happened to your Nanna! I can’t even imagine. I’m so sorry about her piano playing, too.

      Interesting about the divorce lawyers. I didn’t know that was the “busy season” for them.

  6. 'Becca says:

    Sounds like a good book!

    I recently read Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix. It is the only book of relationship advice I have ever read that didn’t have any parts that made me annoyed and frustrated with the author! Instead I felt that he had many ideas that are true in my experience and many others that sound plausible and useful. We are beginning to do the exercises in the book and hoping they’ll be very helpful to us. We’re very happy overall, but we have one main conflict that has come up repeatedly throughout our time together and has defied logical obvious solutions, so we’re hoping these exercises can give us insight into how to handle it better–the idea is to understand your unmet needs and figure out how to help each other meet them.

  7. Anne! This book was one of the best I’ve read in… ? A good long while. And I liked it because of the thoughts it spurred in my head–the writing and plot and all was fine, of course and very easy to read, but it has definitely spurred on some deep thoughts and soul searching. I’m so glad I stumbled upon this recommendation. Thank you. ; )

  8. Jade says:

    That’s a pretty poor description of the book’s start. How about this:
    Alice wakes on the floor of her gym (her gym? since when? she thinks). She’s happily married and about to have her first child. But she discovers that she’s older than she remembers — a friend tells her she’s turning 40! — and has three children she doesn’t know. And her husband is not loving or doting as she remembers, but furious and hostile.
    What happened? She’s forgotten a decade and can’t understand how things went wrong. It’s a fun book.

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