Thursday, October 16, 2008

Title One: The Year of Fog by Michelle Redmond

For my first foray into the Challenge, I chose The Year of Fog, a novel that looked intriguing to me when I saw it at Target. The basic premise is repeated in the voice of the narrator throughout the book as she returns, over and over, to the moment in which the year began: Abby, a freelance photographer, walks on Ocean Beach in San Francisco with her fiance's six year old daughter, Emma, on a cold and foggy July morning. Abby's attention is diverted for a moment when she stops to photograph a dead seal pup and glance at the highway; when she looks back, Emma is simply gone.

What follows is Abby's account of her search for Emma; woven in with mathematical ratios regarding the area of a circle, references to articles and books written on the psychology of memory, and photographic jargon are the threads of Abby's relationship with her fiance, Jake, showing how that relationship changes in the weeks and months following Emma's disappearance. Jumbled in haphazardly are memories of Abby's first lover, a much older man named Ramon; her encounters with a client and a fellow parent at a support group (both of whom she almost sleeps with); and entirely too much San Francisco tourism hype. I appreciated, at first, Abby's account of the various neighborhoods and landmarks that she visits in her hunt for Emma, putting up flyers and handing out leaflets. However, after a while, I don't need to be told that she's in the Haight again, or revisiting Golden Gate Park at night, or standing somewhere while the lights of Pac Bell Park shine in the distance. I get it. The book takes place in San Francisco. I don't need to be smacked in the head with that fact every other page. Nor do I need a Zagat's guide to the San Franciscan restaurant scene; the name dropping becomes anvillicious after a point.

Some chapters are only a page and a half long, and seem jammed into place and choppy. They mostly involve snippets of psychology with regards to memory, and while that premise is interesting, Redmond tends to get a bit too clinical in discussing the hippocampus and the amygdala. (You probably have no clue what those are, and that's okay, because you're not a brain surgeon.) There is also a recurrent subplot in which Abby's mother finds revealing photographs of Abby, taken by Ramon, while Abby is away at college; Abby's parents believe that she is a sex addict and ship her off to a pseudo-camp/rehab in an attempt to "cure" her. This really has nothing to do with the story and I found myself impatiently skipping over the all-too-frequent references to these events.

The heart of the story is Abby's search for Emma, which she refuses to give up. Caught in a tricky place as Emma's almost-stepmother, Abby cannot let go even when she feels that she has no right to hold on. Jake blames her for Emma's disappearance and Abby cannot forgive herself; for this reason she continues to push on, searching for any clue, retracing her steps and visiting a hypnotist in an effort to find what she missed. A distinctive surfboard becomes Abby's "Rosebud" and she follows a hunch thousands of miles in her last attempt to find Emma and bring her home.

One thing is obvious from the title: at the end of a year, the search for Emma will end, whether she is found, dead or alive, or Abby gives up. Throughout that year Abby comes to realize that she loves Emma more than she loves Jake, and while she can live without the latter, she exists in a shadow world without the former. Overall, the premise is excellent and the climax is both satisfying and bittersweet. The book itself could benefit from more judicious editing and less distraction, but it was an enjoyable read.

1 comment:

Julie said...

I may just have to check this out Miss Nicole :) And I have GOT to get my ass rolling, hopefully I'll finish my first book tonight.