I admit, I have a low tolerance for amnesia stories. I don't often enjoy them, I can't suspend my disbelief when the person with amnesia conveniently remembers some things, like the names of her household servants, but doesn't remember other things, like who she is. And I always wonder where the other physical symptoms are, like questionable bladder control or possible drooling.
So when this book was recommended to me, I read it with some trepidation. Ultimately, I finished it because I wanted to know what happened, not because I cared about the characters or their plight. It fed my love of mistaken-identity stories like damn howdy, but the character actions and reactions became so ridiculous I just wanted to see how far it would go before the end.
In the beginning of the story, Adrienne meets Cynthia. Cynthia is spoiled, very wealthy, frighteningly skinny, and not happy to be in coach class. Adrienne is leaving New York, lucky to afford the airline seat, humiliated after her boutique failed to catch on and she had to close her store.
When their plane crashes, Adrienne is one of very few survivors, and doesn't remember who she is. After surgery performed while she was unconscious, she now looks like Cynthia Dempsey, and everyone is calling her Cynthia, so she must be Cynthia, except that Cynthia turns out to have been a really crapful person, and has hurt her fiancee, Will, deeply. Will, conveniently, is smoking hot and smoldering and quiet and mistrustful of Cynthia who isn't really Cynthia.
When she's released from the hospital, Cynthiadrienne goes back to the flat she and Will shared, because despite knowing that she was cheating on him, the amnesia makes Will wonder if they have another chance, and he can't just ditch her when she's unaware of who she is. He likes this Cynthia – and has no idea it's not really Cynthia at all.
Here, in convenient list form, are the things I didn't like about this book, starting with one thing I did like:
1. At one point, Cynthiadrienne gives back her engagement ring to Will, saying that she doesn't like hearing who she was, or how she treated him, and she wants a chance to earn it back. I liked the twist on giving the ring back as a symbol of her desire to be worthy of his affection.
And the things I didn't like (be ye warned: somewhat spoilery):
1. Cynthiadrienne figures out very quickly she was an asshole before the accident, but too easily assumes that it was all her fault. It never occurs to Cynthadrienne that Will might also have contributed to the bad relationship that she can't remember. So Cynthadrienne is eager to change and do better, and Will doesn't need to change much at all.
2. S O M U C H T E L L I N G O M G. Will has feelings! New and different feelings have been roused! And all the telling has cliches in it. Feh.
3. Cynthiadrienne discovers that she's a WHIZ at sewing clothing. She's the best sewing amnesiac ever, and so Will, being a bazillionaire newspaper mogul (?!) buys her all the sewing-y things so she can sew and make amazing clothing for herself. And this doesn't trip any alarm bells for Will or anyone else, that Cynthia, who probably asked for a new car when the old one was out of gas, suddenly wants to sew. I mean, it's one thing for a New York socialite to have her name on a fashion line. It's another thing entirely, a thing located in WTFLand, for said socialite to start cranking out the sportswear herself.
4. At no time does Cynthiadrienne show any curiosity about the plane crash, the other survivors, if there were any (the reader learns later there were others, in a throwaway line), and what happened to bring the plane down. It seems baffling to me that Cynthiadrienne would not be interested in the least about what had happened to her, and to the other people on that plane. But no, she's very content to sew in the luxury uptown apartment she lives in.
5. A quote:
“Will had to laugh. The woman across the table from him surprised him every day. She really was an entirely different person. A sweet, caring woman with a zest for life, and the simplest pleasures, like silly tourist fare. Maybe she really had changed for good.”
First, what is a zest for life? Is it orange zest, or lime zest?
Second, if Cynthiadrienne was so entirely, radically, zestfully different from Cynthia-pre-crash, doesn't that ALARM HIM at ALL? They'll go to Times Square for dinner and he'll go along because it's fun and zesty?
It was getting harder and harder to suspend my disbelief here, but when upper east side New Yorkers start dining on tourist fare, I draw the line.
6. Cynthiadrienne makes several references that make no sense, from saying Will is acting like Rhett Butler, to making references to property on Martha's Vineyard, a place that Adrienne, very poor fashion designer from the midwest, would not likely know that much about. Cynthadrienne has a fluency in the language of the wealthy that makes no sense given who she really is, or was, or used to be.
7. When The Great Discovery Is Made, that Cynthia Is Really Adrienne, the reactions of the other characters are ludicrous. Will throws her out, which makes a bit of sense, but Cynthia's mother, (highlight to read) who paid a crapping ton of money to have Adrienne's face reconstructed to look as much like Cynthia as possible because they thought she WAS Cynthia, is all benevolent and forgiving and not at all suspicious that Adrienne was taking advantage of them. Their reaction to Adrienne once she remembers her identity is absolutely barmy to me.
8. How is it that no one thought to take a dental impression or something to absolutely verify that the unconscious person was Cynthia? Because no one ever switches seats on airplanes or anything like that, right?
9. Before you worry about Adrienne's parents or family, who thought she was dead except, whoops, never mind all that mourning, do not worry like I did. Adrienne has one relative who appears later in the book. She is as stock-character cold, awful, and heartless as you could hope for. Adrienne is totally alone and on her own in the world, though she's now conveniently wearing the face of a dead heiress.
9.5 And yet, at no time do any reality television producers come a-calling. This seems tailor-made for Lifetime or Discovery, right? “The Face of a Dead Woman.” “My Life, Her Face.” “Back from the Dead, Sponsored by Singer.” “Some Alterations Made.” The possibilities are endless, here.
10. That whole dead-woman's-face thing is no big deal either. It's actually helpful. Based on a connection she made as Cynthadrienne when she sews her own ballgown for a gala (like you do), Adrienne is invited to a fashion show competition for up and coming designers, and she enters the competition with her hastily-made collection, sewn in a frantic hurry in a span of days between the phone call and the show itself. Will shows up at the fashion show with flowers and asks for forgiveness, and of course she forgives him for throwing her out on the streets with no identity or anything.
I don't know that I could be so forgiving. Will finally had stumbled over a clue after all those huge departures from Normal Awful Cynthia, and began to suspect Adrienne never had amnesia. So when he figures out with Cold Hard Proof he's angry about it, but he tosses Adrienne out the door, with no ID, no ability to access her money (because she's been “dead” for weeks), no one who can help her because she knows few people in New York as Adrienne (plus she's been dead), and no one who knew her as Cynthia would help her now.
So she moves in with the intensive care nurse who was her noble friend while she was in the hospital all those weeks ago. Imagine that phone call: “I know you thought I was this other lady but I'm not, and now I'm on the street wearing that other lady's face, so can I crash on your couch?”
I didn't think much of Will, nor of his minuscule development as a character, and I didn't think much of Cynthadrienne, because once she remembers who she is, her character is defined and interesting – but for too short a time. Until she gets her memory back, she's way too amnesiac-perky-girl with a few brief stops at self-abusing self-pity. No realistic curiosity about her crash, no curiosity about the other survivors, and no culture shock at being totally unfamiliar with The Ways and Habits of the Very Very Wealthy. Once she remembers who she is, her character is much more interesting, but then her determination and strength are much more impressive when compared to Will's mediocre appearance to ask for forgiveness right before the book ends. I would have wanted Will to earn her back – and not have Adrienne forgive him just because he showed up. He should have had to do more than that, because in the end, she was more awesome than he was by far.
But then, this is a guy who slept with Cynthia, and slept with Adrienne, and didn't notice the difference, so perhaps my expectations of him are too high.