Thursday, February 16, 2012

Forget Me Not: A Memoir (Book Review)

I thought I'd catch up with a few book reviews while I recover from  being so sick that I barely moved for several days.

I read Forget Me Not: A Memoir some weeks ago.  It popped up as a Kindle recommendation and I was intrigued by the wildly divergent reviews.  Was the man in question a genuinely loving and committed husband and father whose career happened to interfere with his home life to an extreme degree? Or was he a callow and selfish sort, bent on fulfilling his own desires to the exclusion of all else?

As with most of us, I suspect, the truth lies somewhere in between.  Alex Lowe was a world-class mountain climber, killed in an avalanche; the book chronicles the memories of his wife, artist (and often fellow climber) Jennifer Lowe-Anker, of their courtship, marriage, family, and final separation.

It's not the best-written book in the world, but it intrigued me for two reasons.

For one, our family has always enjoyed the outdoors ~ my husband and I took a few backpacking trips in our pre-children decade, and then with our three we shared hiking, backpacking, and backcountry canoeing.  I always knew that we were rank amateurs, but: Wow!  There is a dimension of outdoor engagement and skill of which I was completely unaware.  This book offers a glimpse into that world, in which people devote their lives to little-known climbing activities in remote and dangerous locales, lives which are often drastically shortened as a consequence of the passion for one more climb.   Sometimes Jennifer forgets her audience, and the jargon obscures the realities for the reader unfamiliar with her world, but on  the whole she presents a vivid picture of a dramatic way of life most of us will never encounter.

I was also intrigued by the struggles between Jennifer and Alex over the demands of his work.  As their sons were born, Jennifer gradually reduced her own outdoor activities, partly because of the demands of motherhood and her artistic career, and partly because her own physical safety became more of a concern once she had children.  But Alex was often away, undertaking lengthy and dangerous trips all over the globe, frequently sponsored by corporations underwriting the ventures of the world's finest climbing athletes.  At times his loving (and frequently eloquent) letters to his wife and sons became part of journeys filmed and written about for public consumption, and they generated debate about his commitment to his family vis-a-vis his passion for risky work that frequently took him far from  home.  

In the end, I felt that the separations were not unlike those many families endure for the sake of a career; perhaps they seem more significant in the case of the Lowe family simply because of the dramatic and unusual nature of the work at hand.  My guess is that many wives (and some husbands) of world class performers in any arena ~ executives, musicians and artists, sports teams ~ have similar stories to tell, and that Jennifer's frustrations and dilemmas would resonate with them.

Overall ~ a quick and intriguing read, set in a world of outdoor adventure little known to most of us.

1 comment:

  1. I have added this to my list of books to read...