What Alice Forgot is a contemporary fiction novel by Liane Moriaty.
Alice is a thirty-nine mother of three who is going through a divorce, but when she falls off her bike during spin class, she doesn’t remember any of this. She thinks it is 1998, ten years earlier, when she was pregnant with her first child.
While the book is primarily about Alice, there are three distinct storylines: Alice Love, Elisabeth, and Frannie. Alice and Elisabeth are sisters; Frannie is their grandmother.
The book explores themes of identity, memory, and relationships.
Back Ten Years
Alice is taken to the hospital in an ambulance. She doesn’t recognize what she can feel of her body, her backpack, or her clothes. The sleek mobile phone is foreign, but her hands act on autopilot and know how to operate it to call her husband, Nick, and her sister, Elisabeth.
Elisabeth is in the middle of a presentation on direct mail marketing when she receives Alice’s call. It’s clear that Alice thinks she and Elisabeth are close, but Elisabeth’s reaction to Alice’s call shows that something has changed between them in the past 10 years. However, Elisabeth leaves the seminar in the hands of her assistant, arranges for her husband to pick up Alice’s children, and heads to the hospital.
When Alice calls her husband, she’s surprised that her husband has a personal assistant who is rude to her on the phone. She discovers that Nick is now the manager at work and is away in Portugal for work. She insists that it’s an emergency.
Elisabeth is at the hospital when Nick calls her back; he is cold and aggressive, nothing like the kind, caring husband she expects. Elisabeth takes the phone to explain her memory loss to Nick. That’s when Alice learns that she’s separated from Nick and that they are going through a divorce and custody battle.
When her son calls, Alice doesn’t recognize his voice and Elisabeth has to tell her about her children. Then her mother shows up and is now married to Nick’s father. Everyone keeps mentioning how busy Alice has become, and she doesn’t understand the reference. There’s a lot for her to find out, but she’s clear on one thing and shares this with her family: she loves Nick and does not want to divorce him.
After one night in the hospital, Alice lets the doctor believe that she is regaining her memory so that she can go home. They discharge her with a referral to see a neurologist.
Leaving the Hospital
Before leaving the hospital, Alice took a shower. On autopilot, she applies her makeup and blow drys her hair, activities that are new to her. She discovers that she’s lost weight and has a flat stomach. She has a beautiful dress and accessories which she was going to change into after the gym. Although the lines on her face surprise her, she is happy with her new body.
The last step in her toilette is to apply perfume to her wrist. When she does that, she has a flashback but she doesn’t know what it means, so she wipes off the perfume. She’s not ready to be dragged into the present.
Certain places and scents trigger memories for Alice but she doesn’t know the meaning of them: her perfume, pink balloons, a feeling of grief at a certain intersection on the drive home.
Exploring the New World
When Elisabeth drives into Alice’s driveway, it’s a discovery. She and Nick had bought the house in a dilapidated state and made a list of renovations for it, which they called The Impossible Dream. Over the last 10 years, they have made that dream a reality. Alice loves the changes they’ve made and enjoys discovering how each of their ideas makes the house shine.
The next surprise for Alice on arriving home is that she is a class parent in kindergarten and is supposed to host a social for parents that night, at her home. Elisabeth tries to help her change the location of the event, but in the end, Alice gives up and simply agrees to host the social to avoid last-minute confusion. She had already made all the arrangements for a catered event.
Meeting the Family
Alice has a few days of reprieve before she meets her children because it’s Nick’s weekend with them. She explores Madison’s and Olivia’s rooms to learn about them. Tom has a notice on his door to keep out.
Alice also discovers that she’s now a runner, her friendly neighbor hates her, she has a personal trainer, and drinks coffee. And she’s dating the principal of her children’s school, Dominique.
Alice doesn’t remember her children or any of their routines. She prepares supper, puts a bottle of wine out to breathe, and waits for them to arrive from Nick’s. Everyone notices that she’s different, more relaxed, and that she does not have her memory. She starts her seduction of Nick that night.
Alice enjoys discovering her children, but it’s also exhausting. The Alice from 2008 has become sleek and busy. She’s active at her children’s school and manages a spreadsheet of schedules for her family. She gradually finds herself being pulled back into old (new) routines. Although she’s working on reconciling with Nick, she doesn’t tell Dominique this.
Barb and Roger are friends who help Alice adjust to her new life and her new self. (I forgot to add more detail about them when I wrote this post and I don’t remember much now.)
A few days later, Alice attends a mega lemon meringue pie event. It was apparently her idea to plan this event to get into the Guinness book of world records. She gets one of the other moms to MC the event. Near the end of it, she is overwhelmed as her memories return in a rush. She comes out of the experience with Nick and Dominique standing over her. They know that 2008 Alice is back by the way she looks at each of them.
The New Alice
The new Alice first chooses Dominique, but she’d gotten to know Nick again in the meantime. While she remembered the reasons she wanted a divorce, she also learned the context of some of their behaviors. She realized how she let her friendship with Gina, a friend who died in a car accident, define her life. She’d even taken on some of Gina’s memories as her own, maligning Nick in the process. The Alice of 2008 was hard, while the one in 1998 was soft. The new Alice was a mix of those two.
Frannie lives in a retirement home. We learn about her developing friendships through her letters to Phil. Phil was Frannie’s fiancé, who died on a trip with his friends two weeks before the wedding. She remained single after his death, but we see her relationship with Xavier, a man at the home, change over time. At first, she finds him annoying and intrusive, but over time, she starts looking forward to his company.
Elisabeth has gained weight over the years as she and her husband have faced several miscarriages. We learn Elisabeth’s story through her journal entries to her therapist. She started seeing the therapist after trying to steal a child one day. She’d picked up the child to prevent her from going onto the street while the child’s mother was distracted on the phone in the coffee shop. But then she started walking away from the coffee shop rather than back towards it. Alice happened to come along while this was happening, and she helped calm the situation and took Elisabeth home.
Elisabeth got pregnant both naturally and through IVF, but each time, on one of her checkups, there would be no heartbeat. She and her husband, Ben, have just done the last round of IVF. Now they are fighting because as Elisabeth decides to give up on having children, he decides that they should adopt. Elisabeth is furious because she would have considered adoption years ago but thought he wasn’t interested. Meanwhile, she’d been trying so hard to have biological children, and it was all they talked about; he thought she didn’t want to adopt. He became convinced to give adoption a chance after Alice staged an intervention.
Once Elisabeth finds out that the IVF was successful and she is pregnant, she is terrified. For days, she sits in her bedroom with the television on, and Ben cannot reach her. She’s caught in that space between hope and worry. It isn’t until Alice comes over and sits with her, and they talk through some of her concerns, with Alice offering to take on some of the burdens of the worry, that she is able to return to her life.
How The Story Ends
At the end of What Alice Forgot, Nick and Elisabeth are happy together. It’s a few years (maybe 10) later. Madison (who’s in university), and the other children, bring Alice breakfast in bed for Mother’s Day. Whereas Nick used to bring 1998 Alice tea in bed, her preference has changed to coffee.
Barb and Roger are happy and have created a life around salsa dancing. Frannie and Xavier are a couple. Elisabeth had a healthy baby girl and adopted three boys from Vietnam. Everyone is coming over for Mother’s Day lunch, where Madison will do the cooking.
Note that Amazon Links are affiliate links. This means that I earn a small commission on qualifying purchases made at Amazon if you use this link to make a purchase.