Here Lies Memory, by Doug Rice
It doesn’t take long, when studying philosophy or the physical sciences, to be confronted with the subjectivity of reality. We take in the world, the universe, through our senses and make of them what we will, not by choice, but because that is our only option. We are compelled by and confined to our individual perspectives. In reading Here Lies Memory by Doug Rice, I experienced an intense immersion within these very concepts. This novel is a thought-piece on inconstancy of “fact”, a textual representation of the necessity and fallibility of sculpting an image of existence.
Every tactile element in Here Lies Memory resonates with the details of remembrance and perspective. The story follows two families in Pittsburgh and how the members of these families try to make sense of their circumstances and environment. The characters vary wildly in their origins and goals, at times seeming to exist purely to contradict one another. There is rarely a moment where they openly agree with one another, and the questioning of each other’s intentions or recollections is constant. Similarly, the city itself is an incredibly deep setting, presented almost exhaustive detail, crusted with grit and grime. But the environment is never meant to disgust or repel. Instead, it serves to make the city seem labyrinthine, with layer after layer, turn after turn, connection after connection. It is the brain upon which the lives of the characters fire like the impulses of neurons – brief, bright, and intent on making a lasting impressing.
One of the simultaneously most frustrating and enjoyable parts of this novel is that you can never be entirely sure anything is really happening. The depth of detail for the characters and the city disguise the decidedly surrealist nature of the text. Sex workers, elderly men, mothers, and children will stop what they are doing and begin pontificating on the nature of life and the struggle of acquiring what you most desire in this world, without provocation or request. That is by no means to say that such individuals are not capable of this type of conjecture, but it happens with such consistency that it reinforces the feeling of Pittsburgh as a whole, thinking entity, the pieces of which are locked in an existential conversation that they cannot escape from. Moreover, as characters deal with the scars of trauma, ranging from the sudden and total disappearance of one’s child, to the horrors of the Vietnam War, to the living nightmare of incestuous rape, their recollections and reimaginings are constantly subjected to obscurity and confusion. Again, the novel is rather clear in its implication that the traumatic events did in fact happen. But as the characters try to process the sources of their anguish, they simultaneously fight for clarity and escape, to safeguard and abandon the memories of what happened. It is a hauntingly effective and realistic depiction of the consequences of abuse.
With its multi-faceted characters, rich setting, and inconstancy of memory, Here Lies Memory only makes sense – and keeps everything in some kind of organization – through its skilled use of language. The narrator of the novel has a cadence through which it delivers the text, and that cadence is reminiscent of mantra and epic poetry. More specifically, it reminds me of stories that originated in oral traditions, prior to the advent or widespread use of writing, where the only way to preserve and share such tales was through memorization. The dialogue of the characters does not abandon this pacing and tone either, further reinforcing the image of one mind in conversation with itself. The text uses the words “remember” and “remembered” a total of one hundred and twenty seven times, as if it is trying to chant encouragement to itself or its readers or even its characters. The whole of the novel feels as though the narrator is deeply driven to pass on the story and the stories contained within it, lest any of them or their protagonists suffer the second death of being forgotten.
Mr. Rice has accomplished something incredibly difficult and has done so with superlative skill. He has made the surreal feel real, he has blurred the lines between the macrocosm and the microcosm, and he has somehow managed to contribute to the conversation of trauma and abuse in a manner that is not only unprecedented but which feels entirely necessary. Here Lies Memory is a fantastic work that will require multiple reads to fully process and will never make you regret picking it up.
Here Lies Memory is available now through Black Scat Books.