“She’d been alive thirty-nine years and only remembered four days of it.” In Jennie Shortridge’s fifth novel, Love Water Memory, Lucie Walker wakes up knee-deep in the San Francisco Bay with no memory of how she got there. She returns home to Seattle with her fiancé, Grady, and tries to rebuild her life with him and piece together the mystery of what took her to San Francisco in the first place. The story is told from the perspectives of Lucie, Grady and Helen, Lucie’s estranged aunt, who knows the disturbing history that connects Lucie to San Francisco. The combination of having full access to these three characters and watching Lucie struggle to rediscover herself builds a vivid, and sometimes uncomfortable, picture of how fragile relationships can be. Village Books’ Lindsey McGuirk gets behind the scenes of the Seattle author’s latest novel in the following interview.
LM: You’ve written Love Water Memory in a way that really forces the reader to imagine what it is like to have to rebuild one’s past after substantial memory loss. What sort of research did you do to get inside the mind of someone who has amnesia?
JS: Love Water Memory is inspired by the true story of a man from Olympia who went missing in 2006, and his fiancée who tracked him down through news reports in Denver. While I was fascinated by their story, I didn’t want to intrude, so I dove into academic texts about the condition of dissociative fugue, which is a type of amnesia brought on by emotional trauma. It’s quite a rare condition, but I was able to find news stories of eight people who’d experienced it, each with their unique twists and surprises. From all of that, and interviewing a couple of psychologists, I cobbled Lucie’s experiences and journey through amnesia.
LM: Is there a part of amnesia that you found to be particularly interesting?
JS: Truly, for me, it’s the other person’s experience of it, the fiancé or wife or lover. The loss of someone who is standing in front of you, but doesn’t know you. That’s what compelled me to write about this as a love story and a mystery, because each informs the other.
LM: You essentially had to write two characters in one: the Lucie before her amnesia and the Lucie after her amnesia. Was that difficult?
JS: I loved writing such a puzzle of the two Lucies. I like the unraveling process very much. The mystery was the bones of the story on which everything else was built, but then stripped away as the result of Lucie’s amnesia.
LM: Thriller writer, Chelsea Cain, once said that she’s “always on the look-out” for locations to dump bodies in her books. Do you find that you also spend a lot of your days looking for things to include in your stories?
JS: News stories of unusual human drama always get to me, and I have stashed many clippings in a file. My last two books have come from news stories. I collect bits of story, setting, characters, words, wounds, imagery, but who knows how much will ever get used.
LM: You do a great job showing the delicate dance between Grady and Lucie as they try to get back to the place they were before Lucie’s amnesia. Grady often does what he thinks will be most considerate of Lucie, but Lucie often interprets his actions as him shunning her. Did you go into writing the book with those interactions in mind, or did they develop as you got further into writing?
JS: I’ve been thinking for a very long time about writing a male/female relationship from the point of view of each character, because I find it fascinating how we so often horribly misinterpret each other. I didn’t want to write it until I’d really studied the male point of view, from brain biology to social expectations to patterns of speech and motivations. We are such different creatures, women and men, and Grady and Lucie are always doing their best to interpret the other, just not always successfully. It’s been one of the biggest journeys of my life, to understand the inner workings of my husband. I think he’ll tell you I still have a way to go, although I’ve gotten better. So has he!