How We Remember by J.M. Monaco
Published By: Red Door
Buy It Here: here
What The Blurb Says:
Family Secrets. Sibling Rivalries
The blood ties that have kept Jo and her brother Dave together are challenged when an unexpected inheritance fans the flames of underlying tensions. Upon discovering her mother’s diary, the details of their family’s troubled past are brought into sharp relief and painful memories are reawakened.
Narrated with moments of light and dark, J. M. Monaco weaves together past and present, creating a complex family portrait of pain and denial in this remarkable debut novel.
Perfect for fans of Anne Tyler and Sylvia Brownrigg, this is a novel that will stay with you long after you stop turning the pages.
What I Say:
How We Remember by J.M. Monaco is a powerful and often very uncomfortable story about families. To be a member of a family is something that we all want, and for many, being part of one is everything. An inbuilt support system, a place where we can be ourselves and a sense of contentment and belonging.
Jo and Dave live with their Mother and Father, and seemingly have a fairly normal family life. However, when their Mum dies, Jo, Dave and their Father are brought together in grief and also the realisation that their Mum was very organised and had planned everything so that when she did die, they would be provided for.
However, How We Remember is not a saccharine, sickly sweet description of American Family life. It is at times, dark, brutal and very shocking as it tackles familial sexual assault, addiction, mental health issues, dealing with the reality of living with Multiple Sclerosis on a daily basis and the suicide of a family member.
Jo, now living in London with her husband Jon, returns to America to help her father sort through and organise her mother’s effects and memorial service. Having left the States for a career in academia, and trying to start a family of her own, Jo now has to face the past and the awful events that happened in her childhood and split her family.
The story is told in a dual narrative- past and present, and we see how Jo and Dave became the people they are today. At the heart of the family split, is the fact that Jo was sexually assaulted by her Uncle, who would give her rides back from baby sitting. He gave Jo alcohol and drugs without her knowing, and in her hazy unclear minded state, is not completely sure what happened to her, but Jo knows she has been assaulted. To protect her Mother, she tells her only that Uncle Ron kissed her, but this revelation is enough to break the bond between the sisters. It is shocking that her Aunt Peggy will only speak to her mother if Jo agrees to say that it didn’t happen, wanting to hide her husband’s assault rather than standing up for her niece.
This is one of the strongest themes of How We Remember. That the characters do some awful things, but that the idea of family, and the shame that they would face should these incidents come to light, outweigh the concept of morally corrupt issues.
As Jo attempts to navigate her teenage years, we see her fractured relationship with her brother. I found this relationship uncomfortable to read about. They start as close brother and sister, but as Jo gets older, Dave becomes increasingly hostile towards Jo, they have to share a room with only a sheet between them. Jo is subject to Dave’s sexual attention on a couple of occasions, and for me, this was difficult to read. His personality changed as he did this – he seemed not to be fully in control of himself, which made it for me even more challenging. The awful fact of the matter is that in spite of this, Jo does not remove herself from his life.
For me, this was the crux of the novel. That when something so brutal happens, you are in a dilemma. Your head tells you that you should remove yourself from this situation, but your heart tells you that this is your family, and can you really be the one to shatter that bond?
When Jo meets Jon, she finally has some semblance of reality, and a chance for a stable life with a man who requires nothing more of her than her love. Their story is one of the most powerful for me in this novel. This routine and some may say mundane relationship is exactly what Jo has never experienced, but the heartbreaking issue is that Jo is unable to carry a baby to full term, and she measures her success as a wife and partner by her ability to show her love to Jon by giving him a baby. I feel that this sense of frustration and perhaps grief is what leads her to have a one night stand with Nina, an intense and manipulative student she tutors, as almost a way for Jo to find her way back to Jon.
The interesting thing is that all the time Jo is trying to navigate her way through her marriage, her life in America is always like a distant echo in the background. She is always aware of her brother’s neediness and her father’s inability to function without his wife. As long as they are alive, she can never really be free and able to fully be herself.
As the novel draws to its close, we see Jo contemplating her imperfect family in an idealised way. I think this is a really clever plot device by J M Monaco as it made me contemplate my own life and my memories of my childhood. In today’s world, where at a click of a button, we can edit our reality to show the world how fabulous our filtered life is, How We Remember is an intense and often emotional novel which makes us confront (not always comfortably) what our lives were really like. Ultimately in spite of the truth, and how hard that may be, we are bound to our families and our love for them makes us put aside any frailities or flaws they may have.
Thank you very much to Red Door Books for asking me to take part in the official Blog Tour, and if you want to see what my fantastic fellow bloggers are saying about How We Remember, you can follow the Tour here..
How We Remember is available:
At Amazon: here
Via Netgalley: here
Or you can purchase it at Red Door Publishing: here
If you would like to read more about J. M. Monaco, please visit her blog: here