Laura van den Berg’s first two books, the short-story collections What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us and Isle of Youth, established her as an incredibly inventive writer with a clear grasp on the inner workings of human relationships. No matter the setup – a struggling actor finding work dressing up as Bigfoot and chasing willing participants through a forest, or a teenage girl helping her mother’s magic act while also pickpocketing the crowd – van den Berg always managed to plumb each story’s emotional heart.
Van den Berg’s third book, Find Me, is also her first novel, and is narrated by Joy, a young grocery store employee, orphan, and cough-syrup addict who also happens to be immune to the virus that is working its way through America. ‘It is an epidemic of forgetting,’ Joy tells us. ‘First: silver blisters, like fish scales, like the patient is evolving into a different class of creature. Second: the loss of memory. The slips might be small at first, but by the end the patient won’t remember the most basic details of who they are.’
When the novel opens, Joy is part of a study in an isolated hospital somewhere in Kansas where she spends most of her time fighting off extreme boredom and doing arbitrary tests set up by the hospital staff. When order starts to break down at the hospital, Joy sets off across the ruins of America to try and find her estranged, ocean-exploring mother.
As a plot device this journey plays to van den Berg’s interest in the mundane side of the fantastical. In a world where the preservation of memory has become the most important thing, Joy is able to share insignificant details and yet they resonate as precious. No matter the turns this book takes, van den Berg has created an incredibly nuanced character for us to follow along with.
Chris Somerville works for the online team at Readings.
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