Amnesia Paperback – May 27 1992
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From Publishers Weekly
The nameless narrator of this semi-surreal, hypnotic debut is an archival librarian who misses his own wedding while listening to the unbidden confession of a complete stranger, Izzy Darlow. At age 13, Izzy commits a robbery one day before his bar mitzvah, and to atone, he volunteers to work at a mental hospital. Three years later he meets Katie, a sometimes mute patient traumatized by sexual abuse which she relives in nightmarish memories. Izzy's story weaves Katie's past into the history of his own family's disintegration, which was abetted by his brother Aaron, an eccentric engineer who builds a computer that mimics negative emotions. The two lives intersect when Izzy falls for Katie; they make love on the washroom floor but after electric shock treatments destroy her memory, Izzy kills his need for her. Unhinged by Izzy's story, the narrator, himself the victim of some unidentified childhood trauma, wanders through a dreamlike mindscape of other people's memories (he is an archival librarian); Izzy's voice alternates with that of the ancient Greek poet Simonides, "the Father of Memory," until the narrator's mind is overwhelmed. Published to extravagant praise in Canada (with comparisons to Nabokov, Genet, Calvino and Margaret Atwood), this fragmentary novel impresses with propulsive sentences that smolder and ignite, hallucinatory images and a lyrical exploration of the destructive effects of buried memories and family secrets.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Library Journal
A dysfunctional family and a difficult adolescent in Toronto are the foundations of this compelling and intricate first novel, which combines elements of Frankenstein with the magical realism of recent South American fiction. Three characters--an archives librarian who has lost his memory; Katie, a young woman in a mental hospital; and Izzy Barlow, the main narrator--tell and retell their stories. These stories intersect, diverge, contradict, embellish, and ultimately come together to lay bare each life. The dangerously seductive comfort of forgetting and the nature of memory, guilt, and passion are explored intellectually and viscerally. Ambitious in scope and complex in its writing, this compulsively readable novel becomes bogged down toward the end, but Cooper is clearly an author to watch. For readers of literary and experimental fiction. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/93.
- Nancy Pearl, Washington Ctr. for the Book, Seattle
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
There are books that are read and enjoyed, books that thrill, that scare, that anger, that birth hope, renew faith, hint at love. Amnesia is not one of those books. In fact, Amnesia isn't quite like any other book I've read, and now that I've done so, ordering my thoughts and feelings about it seem as herculean a task as understanding all the brilliant nuances and twisting labyrinths found in its pages. But I'll try.
Highly stylized, brutally intelligent, psychotically affecting, this dark tale of a young man's twisted life and identity is gripping and morose, sickly seeping a sense of impending doom as it progresses in fits and starts, sliding forwards and backwards. It's a story boldly told, uniquely told, in a rambling narrative with a shifting focus, a narrative that slaps the reader upside the head with blurry snapshots of crystalline images. Broken family, tragedy, isolation, angst, sexual assault, theft, suicide of the mind, identity, Cooper hits hard with a panorama of confused misery and keeps it coming in this tale that - with its abstract and esoteric fugues - is both hard to follow and impossible to set down.
If I am to be honest, and though it pains me to admit, I can't say I understood all of it. In fact, parts of it left my mind feeling beaten, as if my intellect went to war and came home in a black bag. I can't even say I liked it, really. It's not the sort of book that I consider likable. It's depressing, confusing, and roughly akin to what my imagination would attribute to a bad acid trip. It's also compelling, and irresistible, and more than a little heartbreaking. Whether I liked it or not seems far too pedestrian a question for the weight of my emotional response to it.
If I understood it just a wee bit more, if it were just a small bit less...out there, more concrete, a bit more comprehensible in those sections that, for me, weren't, this would be one of the most significant books I've ever read. I still wouldn't say I liked it, but it sure as hell would've garnered five stars. Perhaps when I reread it...and I will definitely, unequivocally reread it...I'll be able to put together some of those pieces that didn't quite fit for me. I definitely think attacking it with the big picture intact would open up new layers of the telling for appreciation.
There were sections towards the middle and again towards the end that seemed - I'm sorry to say - to balloon out a bit. That seemed to take the dangerous step from abstruse to pedantic, not for the sake of the story being told, but just to be even more enigmatic. Those few passages kept me from waving my hands in the air and stomping my feet in full appreciation. Those few passages were the only ones in this tight, confusing, and deeply sorrowful masterpiece where my attention wavered and my mind shied away.
The rest...well, it's not Milrose Munce, certainly, but it's another side of the mind of an author who, I'm beginning to suspect, thinks so far outside the lines he's in a different parking lot. On a different planet. Visiting, however, always leaves a lasting...memory.
Disclosure: A copy of this book was provided to me by the author for the purpose of an honest review. My rating, review, and all thoughts and comments included are my own.
Reviewed for One Good Book Deserves Another.
[originally posted 10Apr2000]
After a good deal of thought, I finally decided this one gets a **** ½ instead of a five. Why? Because, while it's utterly brilliant, it doesn't quite have the life-changing qualities as The Secret Service or The Diviners did. Ah, well, you can't win 'em all.
Izzy is a very odd person. And on the narrator's wedding day, Izzy shows up at the narrator's place of business (yes, he's there on his wedding day) and begins spinning his life story. The narrator, annoyed at first, soon finds himself becoming weirdly absorbed in the many strange events, which raise questions about both Izzy's mental faculties (as the title of the book would suggest, there is always the idea that Izzy is leaving out some crucial details) and his own-- the narrator also suffers from amnesia, and can't remember anything that happened to him more than two years before the story opens.
Wrapped up in Izzy's life story are the plots of any thousand novels--the coming-of-age novel, the Jewish-experience novel, the living-in-Toronto novel (which, according to Izzy's dry sarcasm, is worse than the other two combined). A basic knowledge of the geography of Toronto is helpful, but aside from a couple of street corners, most of what passes for Toronto here is actually some kind of surreal fantasy-land; don't worry if your knowledge of Canadian geography is nil. Cooper is more than capable of conveying the sense of hopeless bewilderment that comes from living in most large cities.
If you read the dust jacket, you're inclined to believe that the major plot in here is Izzy's relationship with Katie, a girl who's been mentally scarred by the (imagined?) visitations of a "golden lover." In actuality, the story of Izzy and Katie, though it overshadows the whole book, runs less than fifty pages, and other relationships in the book are just as important; Izzy himself is the main character, and everyone else plays the supporting roles in molding him, as is to be expected when one person tells his life story.
One way or the other, Cooper's style of writing is wonderful. The blurbs on the back compare him to many disparate authors (Henry Miller and Kafka are the two that spring to mind first), but actually Cooper has a strong voice of his own, and he's not afraid to use it. The book alternates between humor and horror, with an underlying layer of sarcasm that keeps the whole thing from ever becoming too serious, at least up until the book's climax (which you can see coming from a few pages away, but that makes it no less stunning when it does occur). Very highly recommended, and will no doubt be one of my top reads of the year. **** ½