“Remember Me Like This” by Bret Anthony Johnston

Wednesdays are always reserved for books that I have found inspirational to or have made an impact on me as a writer, and usually these books come from the vault of stellar past-read selections forever saved in my mind. However, today’s selection is a book I just finished last week. The novel is “Remember Me Like This,” by Bret Anthony Johnston, and I received my copy of it as a gift at the Writer’s League of Texas conference where Mr. Johnston was a speaker. First of all, Mr. Johnston was an extraordinary person–extremely friendly, charismatic and an excellent speaker. Thus, it came as no surprise that “Remember Me Like This” was just as special.

When I was on my vacation in California, I brought this along for beach reading. I actually ended up starting it while sitting in my car in a parking garage. I was meeting my friend, and she was running late stuck in traffic–normally this kind of situation would make me antsy and not in the right frame of mind to pick up a book. But there it was in the backseat, and, knowing LA traffic, I thought “Why not?” Suffice it to say, the book grabbed me from page 1 with its beautiful language encapsulating a compelling subject (isn’t that what the world of novels is all about??). I fell into this book and quickly became addicted. So much so that, once my friend arrived, I was a little disappointed it was time to put the book down and go shop–which, if any of you know me, that is quite a statement!

The story follows the aftermath of what happens to a family when their teenaged son returns home after being missing for four years. A kidnapping, the horrors of being held captive, the family’s search for their son and struggles to deal with the loss–most of this action is not even included in the book itself. It happens outside the realm of the pages, and there we have the very heart of this introspective novel. It is a book about what happens because of these events, not a book relaying the events themselves. This encourages readers to place themselves in the situation, to imagine the stress and sadness and instability that would result. The complicated aftermath of the son’s return is extremely compelling to me as I love exploring the imperfect aspects of humanity (see last post!). Each of the family member’s responds differently, and their actions are messy, complicated, and raw–in other words, completely human.

The treatment of the language is extremely literary despite the fact that Johnston writes about a solidly middle class family in the Texas community of Corpus Christi, so employing another of my favorite themes–elevating the ordinary. His sentences are tight and short but packed full of meaning. The long semi coloned, dashed or excessively comma-ed sentence is scarcely found in the work. I personally found that very refreshing and inspiring as many of my sentences in my MS tend to receive all of the lengthening treatments described above. “Remember Me Like This” taught me writing lessons as it entertained me.

Finally, Johnston’s marriage of the literary and commercial aspects of the novel was very, very well done. This is a book about a boy child who was kidnapped, held hostage, and subject to repeated rapes over four years–it’s a premise for the sensational airport paperbacks. Johnston uses this premise as a draw for readers, but it quickly becomes less of their focus as they are drawn into the incredible set of characters who play out the literary aspect of introspection beautifully. The horror is always there, lurking behind the characters, but it is their individual thoughts which take center stage. All the secondary, causal emotions and behaviors are Johnston’s focus. Curiously enough, we never hear the abducted son’s point of view. In my opinion, this was a good move as it draws the focus even more away from the sordid side of the story that human nature is bound to be morbidly curious about and instead draws focus more towards the literary beauty of this family’s will to survive.