Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Kill Memory

I just finished reading Kill Memory, a novel by William Herrick. The title attracted me because the problem of reality and memory has always been a theme in the context of my own thinking, which was why Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has been one of my favorite films. The title is from a Russian poet:
. . . Kill Memory . . .'' (the title comes from the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova - ''So much to do today: / kill memory, kill pain, / turn heart into a stone'')

The novel deals with Elizabeth, in her 70s, and not growing old gracefully. She is tormented by her memories. The novel begins with "Elizabeth was not crazy, she was old." Thus we enter her world where her memories range from her lovers, and perhaps one true love she betrayed for the war, to the atrocities she performed in the name of a cause that was the revolution of the masses, that was itself betrayed.

The book is taut, economical, and well written. We glide effortlessly between her meaningless rituals of the present and her memories of the past that ultimately become too much to bear. It is a stream of consciousness narrative that is treated effectively by an experienced and accomplished author, who has been described by some as an American Orwell.

Even though we intimately share Elizabeth's thoughts, it is difficult to become emotionally involved with her plight. Herrick has been careful to provide an objective distance so that we can consider her life intelligently and understand the issues from an intellectual perspective.

Often I am attracted to a title such as Kill Memory as I project what I might create in the context of such a provocative depiction. Might memories be so full of rich experiences and emotions that they torment us as we grow old because they are becoming more and more distant and are ultimately facing extinction? Or might the killing of memory be an involuntary act in which the past crumbles in the onslaught of time and human frailty? Or maybe we have a character who battles the ravages of Time on a quest to Save Memory, to resurrect moments that continue to exist even as constellations still radiate their light from the remote and vivid past of the big bang.

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