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Forgotten a novel with prescient title

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MONTREALER Catherine McKenzie, a lawyer turned chicklit writer, had a minor hit with her 2011 novel, Arranged, about a modern woman who signs up for a service that arranges marriages.

In Forgotten, her third outing, McKenzie explores themes of belonging, purpose, grief and identity in a story of a woman who returns from a vacation to discover that she's been presumed dead for nearly six months.

The premise is intriguing, but the narrative is sadly flat-toned, motionless and devoid of character development.

The story begins in an unnamed, contemporary North American city.

Emma Tupper, a successful attorney in her early 30s, has just returned from Africa. Emma's trip was a gift from her recently deceased mother, who arranged it in her will.

Because circumstances changed Emma's trip from a one-month safari to a six-month ordeal that left her unable to contact anyone at home, she's especially grateful to be home.

And then she receives a horrible shock -- her friends, family and coworkers all think she died on her trip.

Her apartment is now rented to someone else, her bank accounts are frozen and her office has been reassigned. The local police have her listed as missing -- presumed dead.

Once she gets over the shock, Emma is sure that she can pick up her life right where she left it.

As she assures the detective who was investigating her disappearance, "I'm going to have all this sorted out in a couple of days. Once people know I'm alive, everything will fall back into place."

But as she returns to work and renews her routines, she realizes that nothing is the same. And even if she can get everything back the way it was, she's no longer sure that she wants it.

Emma narrates the novel, switching between her present and flashbacks to her time in Africa. Mackenzie's prose is readable but the plot is weak and has little to move it forward.

The truly regrettable thing about Forgotten is that it could have been fascinating. The storyline is reminiscent of American Jacquelyn Mitchard's 1996's bestseller, The Deep End of the Ocean, which was about a little boy who was kidnapped and returned to his family as an adolescent.

Forgotten, unfortunately, is peopled with pathetically clichéd characters. There's the perpetually perky best friend, the brooding, emotionally wounded hunk, the gorgeous but bitchy, conniving co-worker and even a fussy French hairstylist.

There are also many issues that go unexplored. McKenzie touches on Emma's grief at her mother's passing, concentrates on why it was so important for her that Emma take this trip.

Similarly, Emma's feelings towards the life she led before leaving for Africa -- fast-tracked career, minimal social life -- are vague, giving the reader nothing on which to speculate.

McKenzie does succeed in providing snappy and entertaining dialogue. Some of the bantering between characters is worthy of American chicklit queen Jennifer Weiner, although the resemblance between Weiner and McKenzie ends at the quotation marks.

Forgotten is a book that won't be remembered for long.


Kathryne Cardwell is a Winnipeg writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 19, 2012 J8

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