IN A CREATIVE writing class I once took, a fellow student confidently assured me one should never write about cancer or car accidents, because, âeoeyou know, it's been done.âe
Despite dismissing her advice âe" arenâe(TM)t any writing âeoerulesâe made to be broken? âe" I admit to skepticism upon picking up Hank Schachte's debut novel, Killing Time. Not only did the jacket copy promise a car accident, but what seemed one worse, the resulting amnesia.
Long a disorder as endemic to soap operas as it is rare in the real-life population, I worried over the melodrama such a set-up promised. Not to mention that even the bookâe(TM)s press release makes the link to the film Memento, which has, you know, been done.
I was wrong. Schachte has written a beautiful, lyrical, affecting novel. In sparse, at times staccato, language, he explores the relationship between memory and time and the wonderful and terrible dependencies created by people who love, but cannot rescue, one another.
The plot is deceptively simple. In 1977, two brothers, Paul and Richard, are in a car accident. Paul recovers immediately; Richard spends weeks in the hospital with substantial brain injuries. Paul and his French girlfriend, Cindy, eventually take Richard home, but he is irrevocably changed: unable to form new memories, he is returned to a state of infancy where everything is âeoecontinually surprising.âe As Richard regresses, Paul and Cindy's relationship disintegrates.
The novel opens with Richard's recovery. Like a fairytale princess, Richard is reawakened by Cindy's touch âe" spontaneous and adulterous. âeoeOh Richard don't do thisâe¦.Don't start remembering now,âe Cindy pleads, but it is too late. Richard has returned, but the dark secret of the car accident haunts his healing.
Schachte is his best when he chronicles the guilty desire between Richard, Cindy and Paul: each envious of the bond between the other two. The night Richard regains his memory he secretly watches Cindy:
She is hopping down the wooden steps in pale silk camisole that glows aquamarine in the moonlight running on lithe legs along to the side of the house and disappearing around a corner then quickly Paul is on the deck still attempting to tie the drawstring of his sweat pants as he jumps the steps to the grassâe¦. Her voice is muffled âe" perhaps against his chest âe" hard for Richard to make out. He hears the front door close. They havenâe(TM)t seen him âe" he bites his lip âe" but he has seen them.
The form of the novel speaks to the content: at first disorienting, we gradually adjust to its strange syntax just as Richard, Paul and Cindy acclimate themselves to the reality of a damaged mind.
Alone in his father's Gulf Island cabin, where he retreats following his recovery, Richard makes up for Cindy's absence by recreating her on paper. In an attempt to recapture the seven months he has lost, he writes Cindy's account of the accident and its aftermath. This novel-within-a-novel comprises the second half of the book, the imagined past (the only past there is, Schachte would remind us) following the present. âeoeNow he will be her,âe Richard realizes, as he begins to write in Cindy's voice, âeoeanother way of having.âe
Richard and Paul's eventual confrontation âe" inevitable and ugly âe" is the book's weakest moment: following the death of their mother and a bit of alcohol-induced violence, it is the only scene that hints of melodrama. Luckily, Schachte moves quickly away, imitating the forward and backward fly-fish cast of the mind as Richard envisions those long months of illness when memory, which makes us human, was lost.âe"Ilana Stanger-Ross
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