Home Arts Literature BOOK REVIEW: ‘If I Forget You’ by Thomas Christopher Greene

BOOK REVIEW: ‘If I Forget You’ by Thomas Christopher Greene

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by Carla Occaso

Crawl out of a cheap dark dive bar and enter a sumptuous banquet hall overlooking a lake. White table cloths and sparkling chandeliers. Would you know which fork to use for the pate de foie gras? Which wine to choose?

Meet Henry Gold, poet and baseball player. Meet Margot Fuller, socialite and artist.

Reading “If I Forget You” is taking a journey back in time, between characters, among social classes and into the present and future. And, from a geographic standpoint, it brings you to some interesting places on the east coast, from New York University, Alphabet City and Central Park in Manhattan to Darien, Connecticut; Martha’s Vineyard; the back streets of Providence and beaches of Narragansett, Rhode Island; somewhere at a college and a vineyard in Upstate New York and in a small rustic cabin on an unnamed lake in Vermont.

Though far apart in social classes, Henry and Margot attend the same college. Henry is there on a full scholarship while Margot is following family tradition. They don’t cross paths at first because they belong to such disparate social circles (Henry hangs out with the starving “artsy” people and Margot the socialite jock types). They do meet eventually when Henry is chosen to read one of his increasingly acclaimed poems about living in the underbelly of Providence, Rhode Island. Margot is smitten. Henry had noticed her ages ago in a class they shared. Magic strikes.

Their relationship is at once close and distant when neither quite fits in with the other’s “group,” yet it becomes physical.

Their abrupt parting — though such sweet sorrow — is inevitable when you consider almost insurmountably different backgrounds. He has never eaten at a restaurant with a tablecloth. She has never cooked dinner. He has never heard of “summering” as a verb. She has “summered” on Martha’s Vineyard her whole life. He scrapes together change to afford his nights at the bar while she has thousands of dollars flowing into her bank account at any given time.

It seems they each long for what the other has naturally. Margot longs for the inner strength and drive to be an artist while Henry would like a more financially comfortable life so he can be the poet he was meant to be rather than slaving away on day jobs. (Although Henry never comes out and says this, it seems this may be part of his attraction to Margot).

They spend almost a year together as a couple until an incident forces them to suddenly part ways. He never forgets her and spends the rest of his life seeking her out. She hides from him in plain sight in Darien, Connecticut. Then, after a brief chance meeting decades later and a shocking revelation, it is her turn to pursue him.

This book is laden with references, many of which I knew from my travels and schooling. As I read I wondered if others reading “If I Forget You” who hadn’t been to the places mentioned in the book would get the references (because many of the places and landmarks aren’t just places and landmarks – they contain socio-economic, philosophical and contextual significance). I am sure there were many more references I didn’t get.

For example, when Henry goes to Bannister College on a four-year scholarship due to his baseball prowess, he gets an inside view for the first time of the ultra wealthy. He learns “Darien,” “Greenwich” and “Groton” are known for being home to elite. An earlier reference to Narragansett Bay and the Italians playing stickball (they take Henry into their circle) doesn’t let on the bay is the back door of Newport, Rhode Island and the Jamestown and Newport bridges. I guess that doesn’t matter, but what it shows is that Gold grows up very near wealth, but never tastes it himself. As an adult he lives in a dive apartment in Alphabet city. If you’ve lived there, you know it has connotations of run down apartments, crime and drug dealers.

And, oddly to me, the exact town and lake in Vermont where Henry owns a cabin is not named. This was odd to me because the urban and more distant places are named in detail, but not the upstate and Vermont references. I wondered which pond or lake the cabin is on … the one with the loons. It could be any one of many. But those references made me long to be sitting at dusk on a stump in front of the campfire listening to the sound of the loons on Little Hosmer, or Spectacle Pond or even Ricker Pond.

There is nothing like the sound and sight of loons to suggest romance.

Which brings me to Greene’s use of nature to convey meaning. Whether he does this on purpose or not, water — often a poetic and/or esoteric symbol for love and emotion — tells the tale of romance as it surrounds the characters. When either Henry or Margot are alone, they seem to be on a hot dry sidewalk in Manhattan or a big lonely house in Connecticut. But when they are together, or filled with emotion, water is nearby. Henry’s first “love,” or at least encounter with a girl he admires, occurs in the ocean in Narragansett Bay. And when Margot and Henry first meet — they sit on a bench that overlooks the water. Yet when they go to the cabin by the lake, they dive in deeply together. The loons do this too. The loons are creatures known for mating for life, Greene notes. This suggests, though we don’t find out for sure, that Margot and Henry may just have a chance.

Greene has written four other novels, “The Headmaster’s Wife,” “Envious Moon,” “I’ll Never Be Long Gone” and “Mirror Lake.”

You can meet author Greene in person at the following venues:

  • June 16 — Avon Free Public Library, Avon, Connecticut
  • June 21 — Point Street Reading, Providence, Rhode Island
  • June 23 — RJ Julia, Madison, Connecticut
  • June 24 — Savoy Bookshop and Cafe, Westerly, Rhode Island
  • June 25 — An Unlikely Story, Plainville, Massachusetts
  • June 28 — Galaxy Bookshop, Hardwick, Vermont
  • July 2 — Bear Pond Books, Montpelier, Vermont
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