Nothing Is Quite Forgotten In Brooklyn

An excerpt from Nothing Is Quite Forgotten In Brooklyn

The thought of the other bag made her more willing to drop this one. If it was that sort of universe she lived in, where what is lost may be returned -- well! But she didn’t. She backed up and left the bag on the ledge where she’d been clinging, just below the window of the cherrywood man. He seemed to be gone. She considered taking off her coat but was afraid to move that drastically, afraid that its breadth might make a sail in the wind and pull her down. She opened the coat, got back down on her knees, and with one hand yanked the skirt of the coat up in back, folded over on itself, so it was out of the way. She began crawling toward Jerry, stopping twice to refold the skirt of the coat.
Jerry was leaning over, clutching his ankle with his free hand. Con didn’t know what she could do for him, but she continued toward him. At last he reached forward and touched her shoulder.

"Be careful. We’ll both fall," she said.

"We won’t fall. There isn’t room to fall," said Jerry. "Kids come up here all the time. If they fell down and died, you’d have read about it in the paper."

"Not in New York," said Con. She meant New York was so big, nobody would hear about it. She was sure parts of Brooklyn weren’t even on the map.
"Can you walk?"

"If I could lean on you, maybe," Jerry said.

Con didn’t see how this could be done. She tried to stand and found she could. "I don’t want you to lean on me," she said.

"Just a touch on your shoulder," said Jerry.

Con heard the sound of a window opening. "I’ve called the cops," called the man with the broad forehead, leaning out.

"We’re going to be arrested," said Con.

"But the cops will get us down first," Jerry said.

"But I don’t want to be arrested," Con said. It was too absurd -- mother, father, and daughter running afoul of the law the same week. She’d die of humiliation. She’d be disbarred. Jerry looked cleaner than she felt, almost dapper, his white shirt still looking crisp showing through his open raincoat. He smiled at her. "It’s going to be okay," he said. "Then we’ll get married again."

"I don’t think so," said Con.

Reviews of Nothing Is Quite Forgotten In Brooklyn

From the Hartford Courant

Mothers and daughters, friends and enemies. Marriages that fail and relationships that endure. Alice Mattison skillfully explores the emotional minefields of buried memories and revealed recollections in her latest novel, "Nothing Is Quite Forgotten in Brooklyn."

Mattison, who won the Connecticut Book Award for fiction for her 2005 collection "In Case We're Separated," grew up in Brooklyn and lives in New Haven.

It's Brooklyn, with its cramped apartments and you-can't-get-there-from-here subway system, that flavors this story, which is set in two periods: the week in 1989 that Constance Tepper Elias loses her mother, her job and her desire to stay married; and the week in 2003 when freshly unsettling events provide answers to puzzles she has assiduously avoided solving.

Con, as she is known, is a lawyer who is tentative about her abilities and ambitions and the mother of Joanna, an erratic daughter who makes sculptures out of twine and drinks more than is wise.

Con has been married and divorced twice, and her first husband -- Jerry, one of those guys whose quirks are intriguing to those who don't live with him -- is still in her life and wants to be even more involved. Late in the book they show why they irritate and attract in equal measure.

She also has maintained a friendship with Peggy, an acerbic, somewhat older single woman whose love affairs are always with married men.

But the woman who has dominated Con's life is not her mother, Gert, who was growing increasingly confused and incapable, but raspy-voiced Marlene, Gert's best friend.

Marlene is brassy, demanding, crafty and manipulative and far stronger, for good or ill, than Gert ever was. Con has always craved her approval, and this need for approbation blinds her to the alarming aspects of Marlene's personality.

The week of Gert's death is like a dream in which you lose your way and your will to reach your destination. Con, who is living with Jerry and Joanna in their Philadelphia home, goes to Gert's Brooklyn apartment to care for her cat while her mother visits Marlene in Rochester.

Then someone enters the place at night and steals Con's purse and a box containing valuable clues to the past. The loss of the purse, a woman's repository of ID, money and address book, nearly paralyzes Con.

Trapped with no money for a locksmith and no way to reach Jerry, who is on one of his amateur-historian research trips, Con gets disturbing calls from Marlene about her mother's deteriorating mind. And then comes even worse news.

Dizzy with grief, she delves into drawers, finding old letters that increase her confusion. They reveal things about Gert and Marlene's younger days, knowledge that should set alarms clanging. But Con is too overwhelmed to heed them.

It will be 14 years before she learns what she needs to know about Marlene, in a tense scene that brings Con, Joanna, Peggy and the now-elderly woman together.

Mattison interweaves the halves of the story beautifully, just as Joanna knits imposing sculptures out of string. This novel offers fresh evidence of her ability to depict the lives of women with remarkable depth and empathy.
--Carole Goldberg
The Hartford Courant

From Queens

Friendships, families, and the memories that weld them together or blow them apart are the subjects of Nothing Is Quite Forgotten in Brooklyn (Harper Perennial) by Alice Mattison ’62. The novel jumps back and forth in time as its protagonist, a divorced middle-aged lawyer, revisits the events that upended her personal and professional life fourteen-and-a-half years earlier. In the process, she gains new insights into her intense, troubled daughter; her quirky ex-husband; and her mother’s bossy best friend. Mattison builds her story with a native New Yorker’s appreciation for the outer boroughs, where crosstown travel is complicated, new construction projects spring up on the ruins of old, and residents of small apartment buildings make neighborly gestures while trying to maintain their sense of privacy.