The Weight of Memory – Shawn Smucker

The Weight of Memory Shawn Smucker
The Weight of Memory by Shawn Smucker
Also by this author: These Nameless Things
Published by Revell on July 6, 2021
Genres: Fiction, Christian, Mystery
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When Paul Elias receives a terminal diagnosis, he leaves his physician's office in a fog. Only one thing is clear to him: if he is going to die, he must find someone to watch over his granddaughter, Pearl, who has been in his charge since her drug-addicted father disappeared. Paul decides to take her back to Nysa--both the place where he grew up and the place where he lost his beloved wife under strange circumstances forty years earlier.
But when he picks up Pearl from school, the little girl already seems to know of his plans, claiming a woman told her.
In Nysa, Paul reconnects with an old friend but is not prepared for the onslaught of memory. And when Pearl starts vanishing at night and returning with increasingly bizarre tales, Paul begins to question her sanity, his own views on death, and the nature of reality itself.
In this suspenseful and introspective story from award-winning author Shawn Smucker, the past and the present mingle like opposing breezes, teasing out the truth about life, death, and sacrifice.

There is nobody else in Christian fiction who writes the kind of stories Shawn Smucker is writing. Shawn’s stories are ethereal, evocative, full of symbolism and magical realism. The narrative isn’t always straightforward. Not everything is explained or resolved. It’s more literary than most Christian fiction tends to be and is more focused on tone and feeling over narrative and action. The end result is that his books—including The Weight of Memory—aren’t for every type of reader. Be aware of what you’re getting into when you crack open one of his books. It’s an experience that you’re not likely to get with many other Christian authors today.

The Weight of Memory is the story of Paul and Pearl. Paul has just been given a terminal diagnosis of some form of cancer—brain cancer, perhaps, as its presence is symbolized by a knot growing just above Paul’s ear. Paul can accept his fate, but isn’t sure what to do with his granddaughter, Pearl. Pearl is a flighty child: ephemeral, naïve, and restless. She fits the trope of the innocent child who is simultaneously wise beyond her years and clueless about simple things.

With only months left to live, Paul decides to return to his hometown—a place he’s not been since the death of his wife decades earlier. He’s not sure what he’s seeking. Ostensibly, someone to care for Pearl. But what he returns to is much more than that and takes him on a journey of processing and living with long-held grief.

Not everything makes sense in The Weight of Memory and that’s because Smucker’s writing is meant to be symbolic more than real. If something in the book doesn’t seem to have any logical connection, you can be sure that Smucker has a literary purpose that will eventually be revealed. The book moves in and out of this loose grasp of reality, making the mystery that much more difficult to pin down.

Smucker also introduces a past plot, detailing a summer with Paul, his wife, and their friends. You begin to see several parallels between Paul’s wife and Pearl, along with gaining a greater understanding of Paul’s unaddressed pain. In my review of These Nameless Things, I wrote that the one thing Smucker needed was a flashback perspective to round the storyline out. He listened and the result is a much deeper story that’s more easily understood.

The Weight of Memory is written from Paul’s perspective toward Pearl. It’s an ingenious method of involving the reader in the story, putting us directly in Pearl’s shoes as Paul recounts events that happened to Pearl in the second-person. There’s something enrapturing about a good second-person perspective.

Smucker’s skills continue to improve as he refines his literary voice and grows comfortable in the mostly barren niche he’s created for himself in Christian fiction. Whether you already love magical realism or just in the market for something a bit different, The Weight of Memory is an excellent choice. With rich symbolism and a well-realized atmosphere, The Weight of Memory is a thoughtful, poignant offering. Smucker’s best to date.