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Book Review: The Weight of Memory by Jennifer Paddock

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Three women in their mid-30’s who were best friends in high school have a reunion as they ride out Hurricane Katrina together on the Florida panhandle. It’s a turning point in all their lives.

Chandler, Sarah, and Leigh — whose lives author Jennifer Paddock has followed in two earlier novels A Secret Word and Point Clear — have each suffered. As the book opens, they have all married and moved away from their hometown of Fort Smith, Arkansas. Leigh is already divorced and lives in Destin, Florida, working as a waitress. Sarah is separated from her husband and has left New York City to stay for a time in her cardiac-surgeon father’s unused vacation home, also in Destin. Sarah is living in Alabama with her struggling novelist husband.

The women have not gotten together in a long time before they reunite in Destin just as Katrina hits. In high school, they had loved the same boy and were together when they saw him die in a car wreck. Each of them struggles with her memories of that event, and also those of their fathers. Chandler’s dad committed suicide; Sarah’s left her mother;  and Leigh’s mother never told her who her father was.

Dealing with the burden of memory and moving on is the theme of this engaging women’s novel. One character even suffers psychogenic amnesia, a condition where he periodically forgets biographical information about himself. His condition graphically demonstrates that memory’s weight stems from autobiography, and how we write and rewrite it determines our paths and our happiness. By the end of the book, Chandler, Sarah, and Leigh each come to realize this and end in a different, better place with their pasts.

Even though it is the end of a trilogy, The Weight of Memory stands well on its own and is a satisfying read.

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About Nancy Fontaine

Nancy Fontaine is a librarian and freelance writer living in New Hampshire with her husband, two cats, and every four years during presidential primary season, the national press.