Celebitchy Book Club: ‘What Alice Forgot’ by Liane Moriarty

whataliceforgot

What Alice Forgot was one of the easiest reads we’ve done so far on The Celebitchy Book Club. While the premise seems high-minded, the execution was readable and breezy. The basic story line: a woman, Alice, wakes up on the floor of a gym after conking her head. She’s 29 years old, madly in love with her husband and pregnant. She doesn’t recognize anyone around her. People keep talking to her like they know her and everyone keeps giving her strange looks. Finally, she’s told that she’s not 29 and pregnant – she’s 39 and a mother of three, and she’s in the midst of a terrible divorce. Her head injury has made her “lose” an entire decade of her life.

The rest of the book takes place over the course of a following week, as Alice tries to remember how everything changed in the past ten years. She tries to figure out her young children, why she’s no longer close to her once-beloved sister, why her estranged husband Nick loathes her. And she has no memory of her closest friend Gina or how Gina died. Alice is flooded with memories of her life up until her 29th year, so part of the story is told in flashbacks and memories. Plus, the narrators switch over a few times as we follow Alice’s sister Elizabeth, who is going through a major life crisis of her own. We also switch narrators to Alice’s godmother/surrogate mother Frannie. I thought the “Frannie” sections were the weakest and most unnecessary, honestly. The story didn’t need to be told from Frannie’s perspective at all.

Anyway, SPOILER, by the end of the book, Alice finally gets her memory back in dramatic fashion and I was pleased that it was a sense memory that triggered everything. After spending nine-tenths of the book learning about Alice’s lost decade second hand, I actually wished Alice’s final memory recall had gone on longer, that we get the heavy emotional payout we deserved, told from Alice’s perspective. But it felt like some of the drama and “heaviness” was glossed over in service of making this a light, breezy read.

My biggest problem? So much about the ending. Everyone got their happy ending and it felt like it was disservice to some of the real issues the characters were going through. Elizabeth’s years-long struggle with fertility had left her severely depressed and somewhat manic, but she got an ending with a cutesy bow on it. After remembering exactly why her marriage had ended, Alice finally seemed content to let it die. Until the very end, which just… ugh. Nick was such an a—hole and I just didn’t believe that Alice would have been capable of burying ten years’ of grief and anger like that.

So, would I recommend this book? Sure. It’s an easy weekend/vacation read that you’ll be able to get through quickly. But just know that you’ll be disappointed by the end.

Bedhead’s Take: Like Kaiser, I had issues with the neat and tidy ending of this book. What did I really want to happen? For Alice to grow a pair and realize that there were good reasons that she and Nick grew apart. I also wanted her to get rid of that kiss-ass school principal she was dating, but I think the “new” Alice liked that dude because he fit her new persona. I wouldn’t have gotten along with the new Alice in real life because I can’t stand people who have no greater goal than to build the largest lemon pie in the world. Ah well.

This book was a fun and breezy read, which I appreciated because I’ve been stuck in the depressing muck of sci-fi land for awhile. I dug the Elizabeth character a lot, but Gina was far too romanticized for my liking. The book was a decent reflection upon how much can change in a decade in all of our lives. It inspired me to do a little self-exploration on my own, which never hurts.

Our next book club pick is our first non-fiction selection: Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman. We will discuss the book on February 9th.

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25 Responses to “Celebitchy Book Club: ‘What Alice Forgot’ by Liane Moriarty”

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  1. Seattlemomma says:

    Just finished reading this. It’s a fun read.

  2. Sixer says:

    Just wanted to comment to voice continued support for the idea of a book club. Having said that, it would be nice to have a pick with more international interest and/or isn’t women’s fiction. Selfish, I know!

  3. Dana says:

    You guys should read the immortals after dark series… Or anything by Kresley Cole. She’s is amazing!

  4. Amandah says:

    Hello from Santa Barbara, home of the Huguette Clark Estate! I’m excited to delve into this book and find out what the heck is behind the gates of the estate.

    It’s one of Santa Barbara’s little mysteries.

  5. Catherine says:

    I loved this book, mainly because I’m the same age as “Alice” (39) and thought long and hard about my 29 year old self and what I miss about that time. The line that got me: “why is everyone so tired and grumpy in 2009?” Indeed, some self-reflection (as the Queen recommended) is useful. Btw, I enjoyed all of Moriarty’s books.

  6. Rhiley says:

    Agree it was a fun and breezy book I looked forward to picking up each evening after a crazy day at work. I kind hated Elizabeth after a few chapters, but I really like Fannie and thought her story would also make a great novel.

  7. Nashville Girl says:

    Actually the book made me think a lot about the differences in my life over the past 10 years. I really enjoyed and was glad she got her happy ending.

    • Esmom says:

      Agreed. I was talking with a friend how despite the books “lightness,” it really makes you think. Kinda rare for a chick lit selection. The happy ending just added to the escapist element in this case, I think. I’ll also add that I loved the author’s writing style. I think she’s got a new one out that I just might pick up when I’m in the mood for escapism. Anita Shreve does that for me, too.

  8. mia girl says:

    I didn’t read this selection…you know holidays and all. Sorry.

    But just wanted to voice continued support for the book club and will definitely be reading this next selection. Sounds intriguing. I’m hoping it’s full of wealthy people eccentricities. Love that.

  9. Nimbolicious says:

    This was a nice read over the holidays — a little sanctuary for me to step into as a respite from all the craziness. A good choice for this time of year.

    I found it to be a unique and thought-provoking premise, although I agree with Kaiser that everything got a little too nicely wrapped up at the end. However, I guess that’s to be expected with a beachy kind of read like this — it’s gotta go down easy with whatever you’re drinking ;)

    What troubled me a little was the degree to which Alice had become pretty much unrecognizeable to herself over that ten year period — from what I could tell, she morphed from a quirky, self-conscious young married to this Martha Stewart-y doyenne of some tony Australian suburb. I mean, I can see how a once-vibrant marriage can go south due to shifting priorities, but becoming the woman in charge of the world’s biggest lemon meringue pie? (I agree with Bedhead on that — I wouldn’t have wanted to know that lady, for sure!). And the whole Gina thing — I didn’t quite buy that Gina became this huge catalyst for Alice’s metamorphosis into that person. If I were to awaken at age 39 thinking I was 29? Yes, I’d wonder why I didn’t like my spouse anymore, but I don’t think that, deep-down, I’d be much different. Now, if it were the difference between, say, 25 and 50? Now, THAT would be interesting…..

    Thank you so much for this book club, Kaiser. I am really enjoying it and will do my best to support it for as long as you care to keep it in existence!

  10. Lilmssunshine says:

    Definitely easy read. The ending was predictable. I was really tired of the Gina story, I was hoping for something really scandalous to surface, but it never did. I also thought the turnaround of the oldest child “sultana” happened pretty fast. All in all a decent easy read.

  11. Franny Days says:

    Okay so this was definitely light and breezy to read, and I enjoyed it. Alice and her new attitude after she woke up made me giggle, especially everyone’s reactions to her! But my issues with the book were.. 1. How in the world did Alice become some crazy, perfectionist housewife in the first place? 2. The sister’s parts kind of bored me..It was sad and I was sorry for her struggle, but it just didnt hold my interest. And finally 3. Gina. I honestly thought at first her and Alice had an affair TOGETHER. They played up the relationship so much, and made it seem like it was the thing that broke Alice’s marriage, so I just thought they might have been lovers. (Which honestly, I would have preferred over the boring, clingy school principal.) Overall, it was a fun read though and I enjoyed it.

  12. anotherrandom says:

    I agree that it is an easy read but I didn’t like the book. The Gina thing was just so annoying! I am with the other people that don’t understand how the relationship with her was the catalyst for do much change. And her death, ugh. It just wasn’t for me.

  13. LahdidahBaby says:

    Can’t read the posts here yet because I’ve not finished reading the book, but just popped in to say what a captivating & suspenseful read it is so far. (I’m only halfway through it because holiday visitors & generalized seasonal madness caused it to slip my mind until I saw Kaiser’s item posted here.) It really is one of those page-turners you can’t put down, and I don’t want to ruin it by reading the posts yet, but the writing is witty and graceful, the characters are believable, and the plot twists are engrossing. Thumbs up so far. (It might even make a good film…?)

    • Esmom says:

      Yes, I thought it was screaming for a film adaptation! Any thoughts on who you’d imagine in the roles (I’ve loved the posts here about Gone Girl casting)? Reese Witherspoon comes immediately to mind for me for Alice.

      • LahdidahBaby says:

        Hmmm, as much as I don’t exactly love Reese personally, she’s a gifted actor and I do agree that she would be very right for this role, both physically and because she can play both an innocent waifish type and a polished, upwardly-mobile type. Now that you’ve said it, Esmom, I can’t think of anyone more appropriate!

      • LahdidahBaby says:

        PS, Esmom (or anyone else who thinks this would be a promising vehicle for a film), now that you’ve raised the subject of casting, how about Elizabeth? Who d’you think might play her? It’s an interesting question, for me anyway, because I really think the characters in this novel are well developed, very believably human, complex, and imperfect, yet still sympathetic or likeable in some way, each of them. So any role in this novel’s cast of characters could be a great opportunity from an acting standpoint.

      • Esmom says:

        LahdidahBaby, I’m not a Reese fan either but for some reason I kept picturing her as Alice. As for Elizabeth, Julia Roberts comes to mind, although then I think I’d need to recast Reese because I can’t picture the two of them together, if that makes any sense.

        Anyway, I found an interview online with Liane Moriarty and apparently there is a film adaptation in the works. That doesn’t mean it will actually happen, but we can hope it all comes together and then criticize the casting choices accordingly. :)

  14. Becky1 says:

    I’m not usually a chick lit person but this sounds entertaining-I’ll have to check it out the next time I’m looking for a light read.

  15. LahdidahBaby says:

    Finished it tonight, and felt the resolution was a bit too tidy and easy, and also thought the *two Alices* theme didn’t make convincing sense – which is a problem, since it’s a central aspect of the plot (a once-easygoing, unpretentious “natural” girl turns into an upscale, insensitive, ambitious community dynamo).

    The Gina plot-aspect was also pretty slight, as it turned out, considering how much importance it was given in the workings of the plot. And I know this isn’t Shakespeare, but that flaw in the plotting, and the inconsistencies in the character of the protagonist, reminded me of the main point old T.S. Eliot made when he skewered “Hamlet” (well, its author) for having provided no real basis for the protagonist’s actions – Eliot called that flaw a missing “objective correlative.”

    All that said, though, I enjoyed this novel. An easy read, yeah, but it felt great to get wrapped up in a diverting story after all the stresses of the holiday season. And there is much to recommend about this book – maybe especially the development of the sister Elisabeth’s character (and also, though to a lesser degree, that of her husband Ben), as well as the seriousness with which the subject of infertility is treated, and the amount of play it got in this novel.

    Also, considering the serious subjects that were addressed, I admire the grace of the author’s wit, which remained consistent throughout.

  16. CG says:

    I really liked Nick’s character–I actually felt like he was the most realistic of all of them. I found Alice to be sort of ridiculous; I know that she lost her memory, but the fact that she never even stopped to consider that there were good/real reasons she had changed, and that Nick and herself weren’t together anymore. I thought the plotline with her not having memories of her kids was the most interesting, and I wish it had been developed even more.