Release Date: 05.30.17
Val Emmich’s debut novel, The Reminders, is a Beatles lover’s fantasy. This one is filled to the brim with song references and nods to John Lennon’s New York City life (where, incidentally, a large chunk of this story takes place), I was almost too distracted by the shout outs to focus on the characters and their goings-on.
Told in alternating first-person POVs, The Reminders is the story of two people: Joan, a young girl with the rare ability of being able to recall in vivid detail every memory of her life; and Gavin, a family friend currently mourning the loss of his husband, Sydney. Gavin, having grown up with Joan’s parents, moves in with the family and soon he and Joan become close. She helps him by sharing with him every memory she has of Sydney (who is another friend of the family); he helps her by co-writing a song with Joan for an upcoming contest. Joan is a lover of music and aspires to be famous.
Honestly, I wanted to like this novel . . . but just couldn’t. The emotions are contrived; there is no “there” there. Toward the beginning of the novel, Joan decides she wants to write a crying song for the contest, because crying songs get remembered most. I feel Emmich tried writing a crying novel but forgot to give these characters enough life for the reader to care about them. A major part of the novel is Gavin’s grieving over his late husband, but Sydney is nothing more than a name and a few memories. Their relationship is never shown in the light; Emmich tells the reader he or she should care, but doesn’t show much of whythat is.
Really, that’s this novel’s largest fault: the novelist falls prey to one of the oldest predators in fiction-writing — telling, not showing. I never got a grasp on these characters; they feel like ciphers and nothing more. Joan’s extraordinary memory gift is almost never utilized, except to rattle off dates at random or tell Gavin about Sydney’s visits through the years. The rest of the time, Joan is too preoccupied with writing her song and Gavin spends his days wallowing in grief and Joan’s parents are basically big nothings.
I wanted to love this novel, and for a moment I thought I did . . . but I realized I was in love with the Beatles references and not much else. This could have been a big literary experience; instead, it is a flimsy paint-by-the-numbers bore set against the smog and rush of the Big Apple.
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the ARC, which was given in exchange for an honest review.