"With the Tide" by Mary Bright Carr


“Jon had lived in a country village as a child, and knew the garden: her aunt’s position could certainly be defended.  But until now the malice of the natural world had seemed remote.  You don’t mind about things not making sense until the lack of meaning was directed against you.

She saw a soft bag, almost like the skin of a jellyfish, a stain of soapy liquid escaping.  That was the thing: you didn’t really mind waste until you were its object.”
— from “With the Tide”

Memory is always at work: collecting impressions, recording conversations, following directions.  It’s one of the things that makes us human.  It can be a protective power in times of confusion or during moments of boredom, but it can also be a selective trait.  Memory is known to play tricks.  Sometimes an understanding of the present is cloaked by a distortion of the past, or the seeming disappearance of a memory.  That is the disquieting condition in the new novel “With the Tide” by Mary Bright Carr.  The novel reads the way the mind sometimes works, jumping between past and present, from the 1960s to the 90s.  Jonquil “Jon” Thayer is a young Englishwoman, a single mother, living in upstate New York, whose past is crowding in as harsh and inescapable as the winter weather.  She is suffering from tonsillitis and worried that surgery for this normally-childhood illness will separate her from her 12-year old daughter Tracy, confine her dog to a kennel and leave her debilitated.  At the same time she receives a card from ex-husband Clay Howard, who she believed she’d never hear from again.  This triggers a string of memories and Jon’s life passes before her, and our, eyes.  She takes us back to her college days at Trinity College in Dublin, the difficulties of both academic and personal life, family crises and a parade of personal friends.  “With the Tide” has a large cast of characters.

The book is an excursion through the life and memory of a fictional person, but was created by a noted expert on memory.  Mary Bright Carr is the maiden name and nom de plume of Mary B. Howes, professor emeritus of psychology at SUNY Oneonta. She was born in New York but, like Jon, grew up in Britain and attended Trinity College.  She received a Masters and Ph.D. in psychology from New York University. Dr. Howes specializes in the study of cognition and memory and is author of “The Psychology of Human Cognition”, a 1990 textbook, and “Human Memory”.  The latter book was published in 2006 and covers such topics as malfunctions of memory, amnesias, experimental research and short- and long-term memory.  It is a well-received text for college psychology majors.  But “With the Tide”, Howes/Carr’s first excursion into fiction, is about people, how they experience life in the present and through their remembering.

“She had recorded her dreams, that first year after coming to New York.  As she read, she found that she had almost no memory corresponding to the words on the page.  She did remember that at the time she had thought she was having an occasional nightmare and Matt Carmody at work told her that if she wrote them down they would go away.  They had not gone away.  Instead, she’d found that it was not an occasional bad dream.  It was almost every night.”
— from “With the Tide”

Mary Bright Carr speaks with Bill Jaker on OFF THE PAGE about memory, cognition and the experience of writing both scholarly and fictional works.

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