I tend not to read the acknowledgement pages in books, at least before I read the book. I’m not sure why, exactly; perhaps because I don’t know all the people being thanked and it’s often hard for the reader to understand how all these people are involved. But I made a point of reading that page in Christina Berry’s The Familiar Stranger. I wasn’t surprised to see that the first paragraph acknowledges the help she received from medical professionals, and that’s because medical information is critical in this story – injuries, surgery and amnesia. Amnesia, in fact, plays a critical role in the novel.
The story: Craig Littleton is ostensibly preparing to go hiking on a Sunday morning while his wife Denise and their two sons are preparing for church. That’s the first problem – Craig is a church deacon, and he’s skipping church. The second problem is that Craig and Denise are having marriage problems; how Craig and Denise think about each other as they get ready speaks volumes. Third, it becomes clear that more than a hike is involved – Craig is clearly bent on leaving his family and disappearing.
Then there’s a car accident. Craig is severely injured. When he awakens from an induced coma, he has amnesia. And he begins to fall in love with his wife and family. But there are too many lingering questions, and the mystery that is Craig Littleton begins to deepen and then unravel.
As I said in my review on Amazon, this is a story about betrayal, amnesia and, ultimately, grace. But it’s also a mystery, and Berry keeps taking the reader deeper and deeper into it, unfolding one surprise or twist after another, much like someone suffering from amnesia would begin to see and relearn his or her world, until memory is recovered. The author moves the story back and forth between “his and hers” viewpoints, and it works – the tangling and untangling, and the failing and possible saving, of a marriage is deftly described.
As Berry said in the interview I posted yesterday, she’s put some of her own personal history into The Familiar Stranger. And the pain shows.