Review: The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork

Vicky Cruz shouldn’t be alive.

That’s what she thinks, anyway—and why she tried to kill herself. But then she arrives at Lakeview Hospital, where she meets Mona, the live wire; Gabriel, the saint; E.M., always angry; and Dr. Desai, a quiet force. With stories and honesty, kindness and hard work, they push her to reconsider her life before Lakeview, and offer her an acceptance she’s never had.

Yet Vicky’s newfound peace is as fragile as the roses that grow around the hospital. And when a crisis forces the group to split up—sending her back to the life that drove her to suicide—Vicky must find her own courage and strength. She may not have any. She doesn’t know. — [X]

Thoughts

We picked “apocalypse” as the theme for our readings this month, but everyone is riffing on the concept. I chose Francisco X. Stork’s The Memory of Light because it focusses on the silence that surrounds implosion of private universes.

There is so much I love about this book, I’m not sure where to begin. The obvious praise was already mentioned in the complete summary over on Goodreads: The Memory of Light is one of the few books that focusses on recovery after a suicide attempt, rather than following the events that trigger a suicide attempt. The second interesting thing was noted by Kelly Jensen in her article “Depression Has No Straight Lines, Only Lies“, there was no particular trigger for Vicky’s suicide attempt. And since Vicky is our protagonist, it is her recovery that preoccupies the pages of this fantastic novel. However, since group therapy is a large part of Vicki’s routine at the hospital, we also get to learn a lot about Mona, E. M., and Gabriel too. They all come from a different socio-economic class than Vicki and Stork does a fantastic job working this aspect into the story. And as Vicki’s life gets entangled with theirs, so does her recovery–for better, or for worse.

I’d be hard-pressed to pick a single most interesting scene in the novel. Every one of the group therapy sessions–therapeutic in their offerings of everything from simple truths, to complicated beliefs, and honest clichés–were incredibly well-written. Dr. Desai* is a pleasure to read and an interesting contrast to Vicky’s parents. Both parties are immensely invested in Vicky’s well-being, but both have vastly different approaches to helping Vicky. Of course, once Vicky leaves the hospital, she must find a way to help herself. And this is where the scene I love most comes in. Vicki chooses to pray for the first time in a long time, accepting the things she cannot change, hoping still to change the things she can. And the prayer? It made me cry.

Aside from the characters and the poetic writing, sometimes manifesting as actual poetry, it is the research that went into this novel that takes it from being a good book to a great one. Stork may have been writing from his understanding of his own illness, but that did not mean that he didn’t research depression any further. It is a carefully crafted, well-executed novel, start to finish. And it is, hands down, my favourite read of 2016; I hope many of you will pick it up in 2017.

NOTE: Since this is a book about depression and mental health there are potential triggers abound. Also, some casual use of ableist language.

For more thoughts on the novel, I recommend reading Glaiza’s review here and Stork’s own musings here.

Favourite Quotes

There’s context for all of these quotes–context you just have to read on for–so maybe I should have labelled this part “Favourite Moments”?

Or maybe even “Favourite Ah-Ha Moments”?

  • It always feels as if I can be doing more, and the only reason I don’t is because I don’t want to, because I really, really don’t like what I have to do. I don’t like anything or anybody. It’s all a big not-like.
  • “Forget about trying to be happy,” E. M. says. “You can’t control being happy. Try to be brave. You can control that.”
  • There are no ‘happy’ pills. All the things that are hard in your life remain. All the things you don’t like to do, you still don’t like. But at least you’ll have the energy to do them.
  • You hardly see me in the sun // My sparkle’s in the stars. // When all is dark around you, // I’m the memory of light.
  • You need people like him. You need people me.

Buy Francisco X. Stork’s The Memory of Light : Print // Audio

*it’s strange and lovely to have a favourite character who shares a last name with my childhood best friend