I used to be able to think. My brain’s circuits were all connected . . . I had a memory and an intuition that I could trust. So begins Floyd Skloot’s memoir of living his life with "a scatter of white spots like bubbles" in his brain, as a result of a viral illness in 1988 that led to chronic fatigue syndrome and persistent brain damage. The first section ("Gray Area") consists of essays that re-create a texture of mistaken words and memory lapses, as well as the author’s creativity in discovering ways to minimize or bypass disability in his daily life. The temporal vector of this section begins with the onset of illness; continues through his marriage to Beverly and their settling on a hilltop in Oregon; and ends with an idyllic stay on Achill Island off the western coast of Ireland.

The second section draws us back in time to "The Family Story," a series of stories about childhood. In "Kismet," which begins section 3, the author returns to a description of his post-illness experience, in this case to his fateful final visit with an older brother, who is dying of diabetes and kidney failure. Later, in "A Measure of Acceptance," he tells of his encounter with a Social Security psychiatrist, whose task is to determine whether Floyd Skloot is "really" sick. The Social Security Administration provides one measure of acceptance; but the author creates a more important measure of acceptance for himself: "I can say that I’ve become adept at being brain damaged. It’s not that my symptoms have gone away: I still try to dice a stalk of celery with a carrot instead of a knife . . . Along the way, though, I’ve learned to manage my encounters with the world." (p. 196)


The Night-Side, Floyd Skloot’s earlier collection of essays [see annotation in this database], dealt primarily with the earlier stages of his illness. In that book he tells the story of his quest for cure--his attempts at experimental medical treatment, as well as a variety of unorthodox or alternative therapies. The Night-Side has a light side; Skloot has a wonderful ability to find humor in difficult situations.

Surprisingly, In the Shadow of Memory does not overlap with The Night Side. The night has become less deep and more shadowy, as it is reflected through the longer lens of memory. The humor, too, has become softer and warmer. Yet, the project has grown in depth and seriousness in this series of reflections on the relationship between memory and human identity. Skloot no longer writes so much about the characters he meets along the way in his pilgrimage toward a cure, but rather he writes about the re-integration of self and about the people of greatest importance in his life.


This book won the PEN Center USA Literary Award (2004) and the Indepenent Publisher’s Award.


Univ. of Nebraska Press

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