A beautifully written, engaging novel
Twenty-one years after they were driven apart by circumstances beyond their control, two former lovers have a chance encounter on a Manhattan street. What follows is a tense, suspenseful exploration of the many facets of enduring love.
Told from altering points of view through time, If I Forget You tells the story of Henry Gold, a poet whose rise from poverty embodies the American dream, and Margot Fuller, the daughter of a prominent, wealthy family, and their unlikely, star-crossed love affair, complete with the secrets they carry when they find each other for the second time.
Thomas Christopher Greene‘s previous novel, The Headmaster’s Wife, was a sleeper hit when it came out. I picked it up shortly after, but haven’t had the chance to read it, yet. I spotted If I Forget You on NetGalley, though, and started reading it as soon as I got a review copy. I had high expectations, and they were mostly met. Greene’s prose is exceptionally good, often lyrical.
If I Forget You is a pretty straightforward story: underprivileged kid accepted to prestigious college, falls in love with scion of wealthy family and a legacy at the college. Her family disapproves, something happens and they lose touch. The novel alternates between 2012 and 1991, and between Henry’s and Margot’s perspective, weaving the two threads together and only slowly showing us what happened between Henry and Margot. The 2012 story starts with the chance meeting between the two characters, and it takes them a little while to properly connect. The 1991 storyline moves through their meeting, relationship, and more. Across the two narratives, we see them embark on lives after college and also see their relationship grow while there.
There’s a nice circular element to the novel’s story — although, at the same time, there’s no clean conclusion. This was only mildly disappointing — the novel felt like it ended before the story did. I can see why Greene chose to do that, though, and there is something nice about the lack of a clean conclusion. I won’t go in to why, because that would spoil the story.
What jumps out from the start is Greene’s prose: he writes beautifully and sparsely. Often in novels like this, or generally in literary fiction, authors can lack brevity. Greene does not suffer from this weakness: his descriptions are evocative without being florid; succinct yet complete. Where other authors might take paragraphs or pages to describe a simple scene in Washington Square, Greene manages to perfectly pain the scene with just a few choice sentences. Many authors could learn from his approach, in all genres… As I mentioned above, his prose is often lyrical and poetic, which is entirely appropriate, given Henry’s profession as a poetry professor at Columbia University.
Beautifully written, If I Forget You was addictive, and I read it in just a couple of sittings. I’ll be reading The Headmaster’s Wife very soon. Highly recommended.
If I Forget You is published in June 2016 by Thomas Dunne Books.