Wish For Amnesia by Barbara Rosenthal Deadly Chaps Press, 2016 ISBN 978-1-937739-83-6 Pages 285, Price: $20.00 Wish For Amnesia: So much for the Age of Aquarius Review by Mike Foldes Barbara Rosenthal sent me an early copy of this book, which I started to read and then put down when she wrote, “Oh, that’s not the right copy… I’m still working on another draft. Wait for that one before you read it.” So I did, fearing that it might be some time before she finished since she’d begun writing it more than 35 years earlier. A year or so later I was relieved to receive the “final final” draft Published version — so I would have to wait no longer. While I don’t know what she changed, it would surprise me not at all to discover the changes were many and had as much to do with handling the bulk minutiae that make this book an adventure in language, as well as an entertaining “Siddhartha-type” read. The leaps of faith are many, and while a few of those leaps are longer than some readers will go, there are both pleasant and disturbing surprises in store for those who do. Briefly, the story revolves around four main characters, three of whom come of age in the ‘60s sub-culture dominated by sex, drugs and mysticism. The fourth being Jewel, the offspring of Caroline and Jack, who were introduced, and to some extent managed, by the third, Beatrice, a somewhat older, blind artist whose ability to “see” far surpasses the literal physiological meaning of the word. This is not an easy book to slide into; you may have to work some to get into the rhythm of things and wonder whether you really need to know that “Scientia” is on the left and “Ars” on the right at the gate to Columbia University, but these are the kinds of things that pass through the minds of Rosenthal and her characters, and in doing so become over-coated with peripheral value:
“We are nearing the end of the Ages of Culture,” he said, casually smiling to the small, privileged, inner group still dogging his steps, and he stopped to list as they occurred to him: “Age of Earth, Age of Order, Age of Esthetics, Age of Mechanics, Age of Biophysics, Age of Astrogenetics.”
He laughed out loud. For each age a geodesic paperstraw star was imagined. He couldn’t get this walk done fast enough.Jack, an anti-establishmentarian by any standard, nevertheless achieves a level of recognition placing him in the higher echelon of diplomacy with a position at the United Nations. By the end of the book, in a nod to the Peter Principle, Jack reaches his natural level of incompetence. His wife, Caroline, embodies ennui and emotional detachment exemplified by ‘50s and ‘60s stereotypes of housewives with successful husbands, including those with children, who find themselves at a loss simply being who they are. Caroline often wonders how she got where she is, turning to self-administered drug therapy, as if it would pave the path to understanding. She occasionally draws in an old “friend” whom she considers inferior, simply to make herself feel better despite the friend’s fragilities. One might say Beatrice mirrors the Cliff Notes’ explanation of the character by that name in Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing”: She is likely to touch a responsive chord with many readers and playgoers today in light of current social ideas that encourage greater equality and self-assertiveness for women than has been traditional for women of the Western world. The traditional woman of the Elizabethan period, especially of Beatrice’s class, is better represented by her cousin Hero — the naive, chaste, and quiet young woman of whom Beatrice is extremely protective. Beatrice is as cunning and forward as Hero is naive and shy. Their precocious daughter Jewel, suffers the consequences of a physically absentee father, and an emotionally absentee mother. Of her family, she writes;
This is what my family thinks about time:
1) Caroline: The present is an imaginary location between past and future.
2) Jack: The present is a time of action produced by the (real) past and undertaken on behalf of the (ideal) future.
3) Beatrice: Past and future are only aspects of the present.The surreality of the drama unfolds over a period stretching from WWII on a train to Auschwitz, to the end of the 20th Century, from Europe to North America and back again – this time to Italy — where Beatrice undergoes a magical recovery of sight in a denouement that brings the story full circle. The book is a kaleidoscope of references to obscure and eclectic subjects evinced by Jewel, the self-indulgent Caroline, the in-over-his-head Jack, and the evil godmother Beatrice. As such, they are delightful to experience, especially since most are explained in one way or another saving the reader a trip to her Oxford dictionary or Britannica encyclopedia, or (more likely these days) his run to a computer to fact check with Google or Wikipedia. But the story really is about Jewel, whose search for love and meaning is indebted to J.D Salinger, Christiaan Huygens, Isaac Newton, Herman Hesse, Jean Giradoux, Albert Camus, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Richard Farina, and others too numerous to mention. You get the idea. I, for one, thank Joseph Quintela for publishing “Wish For Amnesia,” and I believe many other readers will, too. About the reviewer: Mike Foldes is founder and managing editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.