The Art of Forgetting
Camille Noe Pagan
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How well do you really know the people closest to you? What lengths would you go to protect themand what if it required giving up someone you loved?
These are the questions haunting Marissa Rogers. A thirtysomething editor at a glossy magazine, Marissa’s always played the beta to gorgeous, charismatic Julia Ferrar. And why shouldn’t she? While her life in New York City isn’t exactly the one she dreamed of when she growing up in Michigan, Marissa is contentor so she tells herself.
But when Julia suffers a memorystealing, personalityaltering traumatic brain injury, Marissa is forced to take the lead. As Julia heals, she begins dredging up old memories that Marissa would rather forget, including the fact that Julia once asked her to end a relationship with the man who may have been the love of her life (a revelation that threatens to unravel Marissa’s relationship with loyal, loving Dave). When Julia attempts to remedy the situation, Marissa must decide whether she wants to hold on to the past or create a better futurea future that doesn’t revolve around her friendship with Julia.
The Art of Forgetting is a story about the power of friendship, the memories and selfcreated myths that hold us back from our true potentialand most of all, the delicate balance between forgiving and forgetting.
Camille Noe Pagan's work has appeared in dozens of national publications and Web sites, including Fitness, Forbes.com, Glamour, Self, and Women's Health. She lives with her family in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Q. Julia’s accident is the impetus for action in this book. How did you go about researching brain trauma and its effects? What challenges did you face in writing about this topic? What inspired you to write about it?
I love novels about friendships and had always wanted to write one. I was working on an article about brain health when I stumbled on research about traumatic brain injury. Learning that our personalities, preferences, talentseven our voicescan be so dramatically affected by even a seemingly minor head injury fascinated me, and I began imaging the ways it might affect a woman my age. Before I knew it, I had come up with the plot for The Art of Forgetting.
I started by interviewing several neurologists and reading every study on the subject that I could get my hands on. Midway through writing the first draft, I realized I needed even more information than I already had, so I interviewed a few more neurologists and began spending time in online chat rooms for brain injury survivors and their families and friends. At one point, I was so immersed in brain injury research that I began catching and correcting mistakes in Wikipedia entries on the subjecta fun little tidbit that I worked into Forgetting’s plot.
Interestingly, when I told two of my friends about the novel’s storyline, they were shocked: one had suffered a brain injury herself when she was younger, and the other’s childhood best friend had a brain injury that had contributed to the disintegration of their friendship! This confirmed for me that while my novel was fictional, it was rooted in truthand my friends’ insights also helped me significantly in revising later drafts of Forgetting.
Q. Like Marissa, you are also a journalist specializing in health and nutrition. What pressures do you see on a woman’s selfimage within that industry? What conflicts do you see between your responsibility to the publication for which you’re writing and your identity as a woman?
As a freelance journalist, I have the ability to choose who I will and will not write for. That’s a great thing! No magazine is perfect, but I try to work for those that are conscious of the message they’re sending to women and girls. As a mother, my litmus test is: if my daughter was old enough to read this magazine, would I be okay with her doing so, or would this magazine diminish her selfesteem and provide her with potentially damaging information? If I wouldn’t want her to see it, then I don’t work with that publication.
Q. The Art of Forgetting flashes back between the past and the present. How did you go about building this story? What were some of your biggest challenges in constructing the narrative? What tips would you give to other authors writing their first novels?
Some people never focus on their past. I’m not one of them! For me, it was natural to write a story that used flashbacks, although it was undeniably challenging to keep track of all the little details and the timeline of Marissa and Julia’s life.
My advice to wouldbe authors is to write the book that you would want to read. Not what you think will sell, or that you think other people would preferthe novel you would pick up on a bookshelf and wouldn’t put down again until you finished it. Do that, and the rest will work itself out.
Q. Marissa makes some difficult decisions toward the end of the book. What central message do you want your audience to walk away with? What do you think is the most important part of Marissa Rogers’ story?
Many readers have told me they were surprised that Marissa didn’t run away with Nathan. To me, it wasn’t just forgiving and loosening her ties with Julia, but choosing Dave that marked Marissa’s entry to adult life. I think Marissa ultimately reveals that it is often the hard choices the ones that require us to abandon beliefs we’ve clung to for years, and even decadesthat are the most rewarding, and the best for us.
Q. What are you working on now? Can we expect more from Marissa Rogers? What are some topics or issues you’d like to explore in future work?
Marissa may show up in future books, but right now, I’m very excited to be working on something different: a novel about four childhood friendstwo men and two womenand how a series of events that occurred during their late teens influenced their lives in their midthirties, particularly in light of the fact that one of them has become famous. It’s a big departure from Forgettingyet I’m again returning to the theme of how our friendships influence the people we become.
- Who is Marissa Rogers? How would you describe her life when we find her at the beginning of the book?
- Describe your reaction to Julia’s accident. How does it affect the story? How does it affect the mood of the novel? What does it do to your expectations about the story ahead?
- How does the accident change Julia? How does it initially affect the relationship between Julia and Marissa? What do you think about how Marissa dealt with Julia’s personality changes?
- In the flashback portions of the book, what more do we learn about the friendship between Julia and Marissa? How would you describe it? What does Marissa see in her relationship with Julia? How does Julia benefit from the relationship?
- Who is Nathan, and what does he mean to Marissa? To Julia? How would you define Nathan and Marissa’s relationship? Would you have made the same sacrifice Marissa made? Why?
- Would you describe Marissa’s relationship with her mother? Is it normal? How does that relationship affect Marissa’s sense of herself and her body?
- What does Marissa gain from her participation in the Take the Lead program? What does she learn from the girls, especially Estrella? What does Marissa see in the relationship between Estrella and her mother, and how does it differ from Marissa’s own relationship with her moth?
- What does Marissa learn about Julia’s intentions behind contacting Nathan? How does that complicate Marissa’s life? What do Julia’s actions say about herand do you think Julia would have done this before her accident? Why or why not?
- What life changes are Marissa and Dave embarking on, and how are those changes complicated by the events of the book? What does Dave offer Marissa that Nathan doesn’t? What does Nathan offer her that Dave doesn’t? Who do you think Marissa should have ended up with?
- Marissa makes some crucial decisions toward the end of this novel. What is your opinion of her choices regarding her career? How do you feel about her decision regarding Nathan? Why did Marissa make the choices she made? How has she changed from the beginning of the book?
- What is the future of Marissa’s relationship with Julia? In what ways did their friendship remain the same as it was before the accident? What do you think the author’s message is about friendship and our responsibilities within friendship?
- Thinking back about the events of this novel, how does the book’s title apply to the themes in the story? What do these characters learn to forget? How do they benefit from this? How would you define the author’s message about our relationship with our past?