Blurb Book Review: The Shimmering State by Meredith Westgate (spoilers ahead)

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This story takes place in a world where memories can be extracted and put into pill form, called Memoroxin. These pills can be consumed by people and they’ll experience those memories as if they were their own. This process becomes part of a new medical therapy for Alzheimer’s patients, where they can experience their own memories in hopes of repairing the mind or at least staving off the disease for a while.

The pills are also used recreationally by others.

At no point in the narrative did I read that consent was given by the memory’s owner to be shared. The implication could be that people voluntarily sold their Memoroxin pills for money, but other than that, each consumption of the pill, when it was someone else’s memory, was without consent.

On to the characters.

Lucien moves to Los Angeles to be with his grandmother while she undergoes this treatment for Alzheimer’s. His mother died of cancer very recently and he’s still raw with the loss of her.

Sophie moved to Los Angeles to advance in ballet. She got the lead in a production, La Sylphide.

Dr. Sloane runs a rehab clinic for people who have become addicted to Memoroxin, as well as heads up the research for Alzheimer’s patients.

Lucien sees his grandmother’s pills and yearns to feel closer to his mother. He steals a few of the pills and consumes them, learning about a secret his grandmother had as well as how much love his grandmother had for him and his mother. When his grandmother dies he takes the remainder of the pills all at once.

The novel opens with Lucien entering a rehab facility and agonizing over a secret baby. From this intro, I thought the novel would be about revealing the secret and the consequences of that action. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. The secret is revealed to the reader, but the information goes nowhere. Lucien doesn’t use it for anything other than to feel closer to his grandmother.

Sophie works as a waitress while not training for her performance. There, she sees others spaced out on Mem. She also spies a particularly distasteful man, Ray, who is a mover and shaker in Hollywood. He regularly uses Mem and encourages young actors to do the same. Sophie doesn’t like him, she merely tolerates him.

Her personality is somewhat irksome to me, but I’ll admit she’s a well written character. She’s anxious and is the kind of person that goes along to get along. At one point, Ray corners her into accepting a drink with him.

She knows he takes Mem. She knows he forces it on others. Yet she accepts a drink with him rather than have him mad at her. After all, he can make one single phone call and she’ll never work as a waitress again. This bothered me so much. There are plenty of restaurants in Hollywood and what, he could ruin her chances at earning minimum wage plus tips? This storyline felt weak.

Anyway, she accepts the drink and, surprise surprise, it’s laced with Mem. The memories she ingests are violent cravings for injuring people. These violent tendencies linger after the Mem wears off, enough that she seeks out more Mem and cannabis to numb herself. She spirals out of control and ends up in the rehab facility run by Dr. Sloane.

Dr. Sloane is barely more than a secondary character, but it’s worth noting that while she and her partner developed these pills, she ingested some of her partner’s memories. She saw herself, unflatteringly, through her partner’s eyes. At her rehab facility she treats a man named David, who turns out to be her daughter’s boyfriend.

During treatment, the patient is given a pill bottle full of their own memories. They take them in a controlled setting to help heal traumas and even erase disturbing memories.

Dr. Sloane’s daughter, Remy, takes David’s pills as a way of remembering him. Dr. Sloane finds out by accident, just before Remy is hit by a car. Brain damage results and Remy is taken to the rehab center as the facility deals with memory loss and brain injury. Dr. Sloane takes it upon herself to remove all of Remy’s memories of David under the guise of protecting her daughter.

Then Dr. Sloane takes her daughter’s pills, the ones with the memories of David. The author writes that Dr. Sloane feels like she understands her daughter more as a result, and even knows that this action is a violation.

I almost threw the book at the wall.

So the doctor, who took the pills without her partner knowing, also takes her daughter’s memories away and consumes them for herself and is somehow supposed to be sympathetic to the reader? No.

The other two characters, Lucien and Sophie, fall in love at the facility. When they leave, their memories of the facility are erased. They find each other anyway afterwards and start to fall in love again.

I could have been satisfied there. If this book is considered a love story, well the circle is complete, the couple is together.

But the author ties up one more thread.

Sophie goes to the restaurant/bar where Ray is hanging out. She’d selected one of her post-therapy pills that was thick with her disgust for this man, her and her coworkers’ contempt for him, and her overall loathing for him. She crushes the pills and slips them into his drink.

So, she was violated by being drugged with horrible memories and her reaction is to violate him with distasteful memories. The author gives the impression that Sophie is proud of herself, that Ray will feel these awful feelings and they will impact him in the same way the violent memories impacted her.

But they won’t. Why? Because of the person Ray was. He’s the kind of person who doesn’t care what a bunch of waitresses think of him. Their opinions are beneath him. I’m sure he’d feel awful for a moment or two, then shrug it off as ‘a bunch of bitches’ or some such thing.

That ending left a foul taste in my mouth. Revenge is never a good answer. While in this novel you can make a person feel what you feel by ingesting their memories, you can’t forever change their outlook on life based on that dose. How a person reacts to feelings, emotions, and memories is just as important as feeling something someone else feels.

Anyway, the narrative style was rich with imagery while also feeling like the author was telling me the story. An odd combination that frustrated me throughout. The concept was interesting though. Extracting memories and consuming them is fascinating.

I really didn’t like lack of consent throughout though.

Blurb Book Review: The Book of M by Peng Shepherd (spoilers ahead)

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This book was fantastic, multi-layered, and engrossing. I’m honestly not sure where to begin.

The plot: People are losing their shadows. Without warning and without prejudice, the shadow just detaches and vanishes. When someone’s shadow is lost, they can do magic.

They can re-route roads, create walls of water, put wings on antlers, or make entire areas disappear. But there’s a cost: the loss of memories. The pull of magic is almost too much to resist, so the person will eventually forget what food or water is and perish.

While the book is told from four character’s perspectives, two stood out to me.

The first was Max. She loses her shadow two years after the phenomenon begins and decides to leave her husband, Ory, and the safety of the abandoned hotel they’d been holing up in. She takes her tape recorder with her and dictates her memories. While travelling she meets up with others who are heading to New Orleans, where they’d heard there might be help for the shadowless.

The author did a fantastic job of writing the slow loss of Max’s memory. At first Max doesn’t seem to be forgetting anything, but once her memories are noticeably failing, they degrade rapidly.

The second was The Amnesiac. This is a character who, just before The Forgetting incident, was in a car accident and lost all his memories. Diagnosed with complete retrograde amnesia, he recalls how to speak, what to eat, and whatnot but has no personal memories. While he’s told he loved sailing, it was just data to him, not something where he could feel the salt spray on his face.

He works with a doctor and the very first person to lose their shadow. As The Forgetting progresses, The Amnesiac tries to continue the doctor’s work of searching for a way to re-attach shadows to people. These new shadows don’t hold the memories of the person, though. A shadow of a rock will make a person comatose. A shadow of a book will give false memories.

The Amnesiac is able to use the dictation to create a new shadow, but does that shadow belong where it’s stitched? The author had me guessing right up until the reveal, which was fantastic.

I want to read this again, just to see if I can pick up the clues of the ending sooner. Also because the author’s rich worldbuilding had me engrossed from the first page to the last. Excellent book, and I’m eager to read more by this author.