The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey addresses the mental decay of Alzheimer’s. The novel focuses on Jake. It is not written in a first person point-of-view, but the reader is very much inside Jake’s head as he becomes more and more confused. The reader simultaneously experiences Jake’s daily life as well as flashbacks into Jake’s earlier years. As the novel progresses, the reader becomes less and less sure that these flashbacks are actual memories. As his disease advances the “memories” become more muddled. This is obvious because there are recurring elements in his memories, like a gunshot, that he hears over and over again as if he cannot place it. The recurring events proves that Jake’s memory is unreliable. By the end of the novel Jake’s disease has advanced to the point that he can’t remember the most important people in his life like his son or even himself.
The novel makes me wonder about the validity of anyone’s memory. Memory is completely subjective. Even if you and I experienced the exact same event we will hold it in our memories in completely different ways. It comes down to the wiring in our brains, our sensory perception of the event, our prior experiences, etc.. Your memory of something is completely your own. Memories cannot be taken as fact – ever – because they are so subjective.
I am also called to wonder about the validity of moments. For example, Jake and Joy supposedly shared a wonderful evening together many years ago. Jake succumbs to Alzheimer’s, and he can’t remember the event. One day Joy will die and, therefore, will forget the event. If both parties forget, then did it ever really happen? There is no pool of memories collected from people who have forgotten or died. Perhaps time isn’t linear, but what has happened or is happening cannot be retrieved and relived. Perhaps it sounds too much like the cliché: “if a tree falls in the woods and no one’s around to hear it, does it make a sound?” But it is a serious consideration. No one else knows that moment happened and lived in memories, so, when it ceases to exist in memories, it ceases to exist.