Can I just say I love this cover? Its essentially translucent to show off the beautiful design on the hardback. I picked this up at Book Fest in St. Louis.
Customary warning: This is a reminder that these reviews are my personal opinions. My thoughts and feelings are not your thoughts and feelings. I may not always be the target audience for a book; sometimes I am. If I do not like a book, that doesn’t mean you’ll dislike it. If I love a book or simply like a book, you may hate it. Take everything I say with this in mind. If it sounds interesting to you despite what I’ve said, then go ahead and read it. You’ll only know you like something if you read it yourself.
Spoilers ahead, fair warning.
That being said…
MEM by Bethany C. Morrow
Synopsis From The Book
The Roaring Twenties are in full swing, and technological advancements have led to a rather unusual but fashionable practice: the elites of Montreal are having unpleasant memories extracted from their minds, but the memories exist as mirror images of their sources, creatures known as “Mems.”
Elsie, otherwise called Dolores Extract No. 1, is the first Mem with the ability to create her own memories. She is granted special privileges and allowed to live on her own in the city, away from the Vault where all the other Mems are kept — that is, until the day she is suddenly summoned back. What happens next is a gorgeously rendered, heartbreaking novel, announcing an exhilarating new voice in speculative literature.
Short Synopsis By Me
Elsie is a Mem, short for “memory” also known as an extraction of unwanted memory from a human Source. Typically Mems are brainless, lost only in the moment of and surrounding their extraction (the memory from which they come). Elsie is sentient, able to create her own memories outside of those as her identity as Dolores Extract No. 1. For almost two decades Elsie was granted the freedom to live on her own as a person, but that all changes when she is recalled to the Vault — the lab where all Mems are kept and created — due to the deterioration of her Source. Mem explores the concepts of identity, memory, and existence in a way that may leave you breathless.
Initial Thoughts Before Reading:
I saw this on a table of books and was not immediately drawn, but when the table supervisor started introducing the books on the table I picked it up having to look inside. I saw Roaring Twenties. I heard sci-fi. I saw “memories extracted.” I said yes. Out of all the books from my trip to St. Louis this is hands down the one I was the most excited for, which could perhaps have been a bad thing. I didn’t care. I let the hype fester within me.
Initial Thoughts After Reading:
Scream. That’s what I did after reading this book. I screamed. I screamed because the ending had my heart and shook it, making me feel so much. So I screamed to let it out. This book was short at 182 pages, but within those 182 pages I saw a world. I was faced with questions on existence that I never thought I’d have. I was faced with thoughts on memories that have sit within me.
What does it mean to exist? What would it be like to extract a memory that is unwanted? I thoroughly believe that it is the experiences we face that shape us to become who we are as humans. When I was younger I would often say “the experience is always worth it.” In recent years I have begun to question whether this is true. Is the experience truly always worth it? Even the horrible, the disastrous, the life shattering? I do not know it it is worth it, but I know the experience will always shape me.
So what happens when you don’t remember those experiences? What happens when you forget those changes? Do you remain stagnant? Do you try to fill in the gaps and perhaps lose yourself along the way? What becomes of you? What becomes of those memories, and are they worth it?
I’m not sure, but I am sure that this book will leave me thinking about it for a long time to come.
What I Liked:
Elsie and her existence. She is not an anomaly she exists within the frame of the world, but as an existence who thrives like all others. She is constantly growing and she is the light that her Source eliminated. Elsie is the light that all of us have within us that changes. Elsie is not a memory. She is an epiphany. She is the evolution of thought, memory, and knowledge. She is the cumulation of existence. She is just like you or I. Elsie is not a thing.
The philosophical questions in this novel are ones that leave me wanting to posed this book to far more people. They are questions I want to know other’s perspectives on. I want to know more, see more, ask more and understand how memory shapes others.
The other characters in the novel drew me in, with their perceptions of memories. A Mem was a possession, an “it,” a record. Mems were virtually abandoned. They serve as a self-serving existence and are a fascination. Some characters look at Elise as an existence within her own and fight to protect her, while others see her as a lie, an anomaly, as a product. This book focuses on Elsie’s survival, and her existence she has accepted. Where other characters fight for her, she fights for herself in a way that is entirely her own. She does not try to be her Source, and she reminds others that she is not. How the others take that is up to them, but through the book you can see how her existence shapes others.
Harvey and his decision. Harvey is a Banker (Scientist) and the son of a Banker, now dead, who once cared for and scientifically observed Elsie. He, Harvey, is the one who Elsie falls for. He, too, loves her for who she is, but knows he can not love her for she is a memory. She will never age and he will. She will exist and he will die. They are star crossed and his decision in the end is what left me screaming. I do not want to spoil, so I will not.
It was a simple plot, a simple world. It was filled with a disjointed narrative (cut ins from the past or other times), that I am fond of. I know this throws people off, so take note. The story came from the premise. The existence of what is identity. MEM‘s story telling is vivid and I find that a first person narrative was perhaps the only way to accurately tell this story.
What I Would Have Liked or Changed:
I wish Dolores, the Source, and her story line had ended differently. I understand its necessity. I just wish she could have been helped.
Why You Should Read:
Philosophy. Beautiful characters and thought provoking stories are always a plus, but for me if I had to give you just one reason? It would be for the questions on existence and memories.
This book redefined to me, at least, a pride in my story. Bad things can happen to a person, and that’s what makes them human. It’s how we grown, change, and recover that defines us.
Time Taken To Read
1 hr and 20 min
Can I give a 6/5?
” ‘If people are imperfect enough to destroy their minds, perhaps they cannot perfect the procedure that allows them to do so.’
Harvey dismissed my logic. “That’s rather literal. It’s more a matter of scientific integrity. Regardless the invention in question, regardless what it does — if we’ve created it, we must strive to perfect it, if we can.’ ” – Elsie to Harvey
” ‘What’s it like to know there’s something you’ll never remember?’ ” – Ettie, a worker at the Vault
“This is the first universal truth I have ever come by on my own and it multiples like fire. Because if this is possible — if sudden death is no respecter of person — so must every horrid thing be.” – The memory that created Elsie.
” ‘ I began as one epiphany and I never stopped having them; I’ve been having them all along, growing brighter every time while other Mems fade and expire. Real people have glimpses of me, realizations they then digest — the moments fade or time erodes them. But I am the realization separated from Dolores before I could be changed… No matter what her father hoped, extraction means I cannot be forgotten.’ ” – Elsie