When I read author Thomas Christopher Greene’s acknowledgements at the end of his novel, If I Forget You, I felt a twinge of guilt about my two-star rating. It was clear from his thank-yous that this novel is partly autobiographical, which makes me feel a teensy bit bad about picking it to pieces. So I won’t go overboard…
The story follows Henry Gold and Margot Fuller – they meet in 1991, at university. Henry is a poor Jewish kid on a baseball scholarship, and an aspiring poet. Margot is wealthy, preppy and has a father on the college board. It’s clear that Margot is expected to date lacrosse players and not poor Jewish poets. Henry and Margot fall in love and spend a handful of months together before their relationship is ripped apart by Margot’s father. They spend the next twenty years pining for each other and the story yo-yos between 1991 and 2012, as this unfulfilled romance plays out.
Obviously, Greene doesn’t break new-ground with his Romeo and Juliet plot, which would be okay were it not for the flaws in his version. Firstly, the 1991 setting. I was at uni in 1991 and I’m trying to think of a feasible scenario where people (educated people with no extreme cultural or religious beliefs) were ‘driven apart’ by parents. I can’t (makes me think Margot is piss-weak).
For a love story, there is little love. I struggled to understand the motivations of either character or why they were drawn to each other, short of wanting what they couldn’t have. Forbidden love has a certain appeal but it’s difficult to believe that this brief affair was deep enough to be burning twenty years later – unless it becomes a construct of their imaginations, a ‘could have been‘, but Greene never implies this.
Greene’s writing is plain – not in a stark and striking way but more in a utilitarian and serviceable way. You set the bar high by having a main character as a poet – I was hoping for something a little more lyrical and fluid but what I got were analogies that were clunky and obvious. For example –
“He wants her to go as a test to see how it feels, to try on her angry absence like a coat he covers his shoulders with against the cold.”
“The very virility cut out of him as easily as a knife slices into a peach.”
“I would be lying if I didn’t say I miss you like I miss spring in the middle of a snowstorm.”
Small details were ill-conceived and irritating. The confrontation between Margot’s father and Henry was ludicrous; the scene where self-conscious, middle-aged Margot strips off for a midnight swim, unlikely (women don’t undress in a way that leaves them with boobs everywhere while they struggle out of jeans); and the poem? Cringe.
2/5 Nothing to surprise me.
I received my copy of If I Forget You from the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
Margot and Henry share a meal of roast chicken.
“…Margot marvels at the simplicity of people preparing food, since in her life she has never cooked a thing.”
I abandoned all roast chicken recipes after making Jamie Oliver’s Perfect Roast Chicken (the recipe was published in his very first cookbook) – it is so, so good.
As part of the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge, I’m comparing the Belfast summer and Melburnian winter – the results for the day I finished this book (July 2): Belfast 9°-14°, Melbourne 9°-15°.