It’s 2006. Caroline Thompson is a suburbanite, an aspiring writer who is working on her first novel. She lives in a modern house in a subdivision. Her husband Andy has to travel a lot for work, sometimes going overseas for a week or two. They have two daughters around age eight or so. It’s a soccer mom life, complete with bake sales, swimming practice, volunteering in the school library, minivans and picket fences. Caroline is happy – and then she Googles herself and finds out disturbing facts that either are bogus or she has completely forgotten. Is her past really what she thinks it is?
The Memory Box is Natiello’s debut novel. Her subject matter, the lives of young mothers in suburbia, would normally not interest me in the least, and I’d never spend my time reading such a book. However, something triggered me to pick up the sample, and Natiello’s style, fast-paced prose and immediate build-up of suspense roped me in within a few pages, and I couldn’t help but buy the book.
I didn’t read this because I cared much about the characters or because there was some lesson to learn here. I read it because I wanted to find out what was going on with her brain. I have always been interested in brain function, memory, and rational thought. The plot of this book revolves around Caroline investigating her own past, since she realizes that her memory does not serve her adequately. To me, the thought of losing my intellectual capacity is frightening, and that’s what this thriller is basically about. So I kept reading.
I liked the writer’s fast paced and clear prose. Her imagery, while it is sometimes over the top, helped me form clear mental pictures of the action and the locales at all times. She writes the entire novel in the present tense, which is a technique that makes everything more urgent. This is definitely not a boring book, and it is well-edited.
On the negative side, there are some plot twists that, now that I am done reading, I still don’t understand or follow. The main premises of the plot don’t seem to make sense, but as a reader I didn’t know that until I was all done. The ending was something of a let-down. The book was better for the first 98% than it was when I turned the last page and was done. Something about it wasn’t right – and I’ll let you read it and decide for yourself.
Rating: ** (out of 4)