Monday 3 January 2022

Short Story Review: What the forest remembers by Jennifer Egan

What the forest remembers by Jennifer Egan

This story can be found in the New Yorker

It starts as a fairy tale would "Once upon a time , in a faraway land, there was a forest" but these forest memories are not the memories of trees, but the memories of four young men in the mid 1960's going there to experience their first 'grass' . Yet it is none of these men who are recalling their memories telling others the story or stories of that night. Instead, it is the daughter of one who is the narrator of this story years later, after her father has died. Her own memory of it is a six year olds, and that amounts to him going away and returning from this "Short trip north, some fishing, a little duck hunting, maybe"

So how does she 'tell' the story of that night? ****SPOILER ALERT ****Why via one-foot-square yellow Mandala Consciousness Cube of course! It seems her father took part in a consciousness storage project and his consciousness stored for that academic experiment was later transferred to a Cube where she could view them, and later she had them transferred into the Collective Consciousness, where lucky for her as the narrator of this story she found all four men’s memories.

From these she has constructed the story, or at least a fuller version of the story of that night. Her authorial problem is in many ways the same as any researcher for a historical biography would have " ... my problem is the same one that everyone who gathers information has: What to do with it? How to sort and shape and use it? How to keep from drowning in it? Not every story needs to be told."

I wish more had been made of this authorial dilemma. On one reading this I am left with thinking - Consciousness Storage is an interesting concept but not totally novel so why use it as a device in this story? Well the answer comes not in the story but in the linked New Yorker interview Egan does entitled "The Dangers of Knowing" .

So if you intend to read her forthcoming book The Candy House this is for you as that is where this is explored further through a common character, one of the men Lou Kline, the father of our story's narrator.

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