What are some motifs in Aimee Bender's "The Rememberer"?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Aimee Bender’s unusual story “The Rememberer” was written in a style called “Magical Realism.” A bizarre set of circumstances is set within the frame of realistic life so that the unusual seems possible. This story concerns Darwin’s evolution theory, but in reverse.  The main character’s husband reverses the procedure by devolving into a creature that returns to the sea.

The story is narrated by the main character Annie, an ordinary woman whose lover is Ben. Her narration is in the present tense as though the story is happening as the reader reads.  Annie is a thinker, and Ben is a dreamer. Annie’s character approaches their dilemma both scientifically and emotionally.  But nothing changes the devolution of her lover.

No one knows that this has happened.  Part of the story is a flashback, but returns to the present time when Annie returns her love/salamander back to the sea. As the story starts, Ben has already evolved into a sea turtle:

My lover is experiencing reverse evolution. I don’t know how it happened, only that one day he was my lover and the next he was some kind of ape. It’s been a month, and now he’s a sea turtle.

Scientifically, the story does give a basic look at the Darwin theory.  As Ben devolves all the back to the sea, the procedure maps the reverse of science. One symbolic event occurs when Annie has to explain why Ben is no longer around.  The book store calls to explain:

His out-of-print book on civilization had arrived at the bookstore, would be please pick it up?  I told them he was sick, a strange sickness…

What irony! It makes the reader wonder if Ben had some inking that he needed to read about where he was going. One remarkable facet of Annie is that she accepts this occurrence with only the slightest hiccup.  She asks a biology teacher about evolution. He gives her the basic run down and tells her that this would probably take about a year. Science was wrong. Annie tells the reader that Ben is “shedding about a million years a day."

One of the themes of the story reflects Bender’s own life.  During the time that she wrote this story, her father was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. She became one of his care givers.  Thus,  Annie becomes the caretaker for her devolving husband. As best she can, she provides whatever he needs: a baking pan of saltwater; a gentle touch for the ape; a dribble of honey in the water.

Continuing to work, Annie never knows what she will find when she returns home.  She talks to him, hoping there is still some bit of human recollection left:

‘Ben,’ I say to his small protruding head, ‘can you understand me?’ and he stares with eyes like little droplets of tar and I drip tears into the pan, a sea of me.

The author’s metaphor rings nostalgic for a woman who has lost her man and her salty tears provide his salt water home.

Another theme found in the story is the idea of the “rememberer.”  This is the person who responsibility is to hang onto and recall the memories of a life that is slowly being lost to disease or age or in this case evolution. Annie watches as her loved one regresses into unrecognizable mindlessness. 

As Ben becomes less cerebral, he loses his ability to feel emotion and detaches himself from the actual experiences of life.  Annie must remember for herself and Ben their lives together.  Relevant to the real world today and for the ones who are lost, someone must be “the rememberer.   


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