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April 7, 2009

Stefan Merrill Block: Stories Waiting to Be Told

Posted by carol
Stefan Merrill Block's debut novel, The Story of Forgetting (on sale today in paperback), depicts one family's poignant battle with Alzheimer's. In today's guest blog post, Stefan shares what interests him the most about The Story of Forgetting being discussed by book clubs.

Again and again, in these weeks leading up to the paperback release of The Story of Forgetting, I find myself launched into flashback, conjuring an image of myself just four years ago: a broke 23-year-old Texan, renting half a bed in a shabby Brooklyn apartment, daily burying myself deeper in pages and in debt. It's hard to convey the vertiginous mix of gratification and gratitude I feel, four years later, to have my book read and discussed by thoughtful readers and their book clubs.

As an avid reader myself, I see the rising popularity of book clubs as a powerful, hopeful rebuttal of the common, cynical lament that, in this culture of distractions, literary fiction is a dying form; the success of sites like this one prove that readers, in large numbers, still want books that will surprise and challenge them.

Though The Story of Forgetting is about many things --- family, inheritance, isolation, Texas, adolescence, lost love (to name a few) --- again and again, in bookstores, in literary festivals, in emails from readers, and in book clubs, people have approached me to tell me about their own experiences with Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Many of these readers, I think, share with me the fundamental feeling that compelled me to produce this book: the lonely sense that stories dealing with dementia are too rarely represented in mainstream media, the frustration that there is little with which I can compare the dark pathos, occasional humor and deep meaning I've found in my own experiences of losing loved ones to Alzheimer's.

The relative lack of depictions of dementia in novels and in films still baffles me, as it seems that nearly everyone has their own stories of witnessing or experiencing major mental deterioration, stories that can often transmit (even to those who don't have personal experience with neurological disease) major insight into how our minds are formed. This is what excites me most about the possibility of The Story of Forgetting being read by book clubs: that, by discussing my particular story of Alzheimer's in these public forums, it could provide an opportunity to release many, many extraordinary stories of harrowing loss that I know are waiting to be told.

---Stefan Merrill Block