Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Utterly Forgettable

The Year of Fog
by Michelle Richmond

OK, surely every parent can identify with the panic of not being able to find your child, even for a few seconds. I have a distinct memory of "losing" Samuel in the National Museum of the American Indian. He was hiding behind a sculpture, and it was only for a few seconds (seemed much longer), but it was an awful feeling. The Year of Fog deals with this nightmare in a situation of child abduction. This is not a bad story, and you will want this family to be reunited, but this territory has been covered much better in Jacquelyn Mitchard's The Deep End of the Ocean.

There is also a ring of Jane Smiley's A Map of the World here, because the person who loses the child is not her mother - it is her soon to be stepmother, her father's fiancee. In A Map of the World, a woman accidentally lets the child of her best friend drown. In both cases, the person who was watching the child feels awful guilt and shame about having made such an egregious mistake, and understandably so. Again, though, Smiley's book is far better than The Year of Fog.

The book raised a question for me, though. Abby, the fiancee who is watching the child, Emma, berates herself to no end for looking away from Emma (the child) for just a few seconds to snap a picture. In that tiny span of time, the little girl disappears. That would be awful, there is no doubt. But what kind of expectations are we setting up for ourselves as parents if we are expected to NEVER take our eyes off our children? I am a pretty vigilant mommy, but have witnessed and been part of enough playground scrapes, lighting quick disappearances (and findings), and the occasional more serious injury to realize that things can happen in literally the blink of an eye. Do we let that make us always fearful? Do we lock our kids in the house and never let them go anywhere "dangerous" or have any new experiences? I don't think so. We have to find the balance between appropriate attention and attentiveness to our kids and letting them stretch themselves a bit, even if that involves some risk. I did not sense that balance in The Year of Fog. Abby just condemns herself (and her fiance does too, although he makes an effort not to) for turning her head. That sets up an expectation that none of us can reach, and I'm not sure that we should.

Also, the extended photography metaphors and the intertwined psychological theory on memory were both overdone in this book. It just got really old - I wanted to say "OK, OK, I GET IT!"

Even though I have read and liked other novels (see above) that deal with variations on this same topic, that was years ago. To be fair, I may have had a bias against this book from the beginning that I think has to do with being a mom myself now. When I read A Map of the World (in the late 90s), I had no children yet. I could appreciate the work for the fine piece of writing that it was, but keep a distance from the horror of the topic. That is no longer possible. I think losing one of my sweet boys to death or kidnapping would be more than I could bear. So, not sure I will be seeking out these types of books anymore. It's just too frightening, and there is enough to be scared of in the non-fiction world around us.

Reverent Reader


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