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Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 522

In Peng Shepherd's post-apocalyptic vision, the ideas of shadow and memory are inextricably linked.

The widespread social malaise that pervades Earth's people is initially indicated by a bizarre physical phenomenon: people begin to lose their shadows. The idea of the separation of person from shadow is far from new (J....

(The entire section contains 522 words.)

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In Peng Shepherd's post-apocalyptic vision, the ideas of shadow and memory are inextricably linked.

The widespread social malaise that pervades Earth's people is initially indicated by a bizarre physical phenomenon: people begin to lose their shadows. The idea of the separation of person from shadow is far from new (J. M. Barrie, for example, used it in Peter Pan more than a century ago). Shepherd, however, effectively pairs it with another, more profoundly disturbing change: the loss of memory.

Profound disorientation results as people literally do not know where to turn. Concepts such as home or family become meaningless as no one knows where they belong. This widespread phenomenon becomes known as the Forgetting, and all over the planet only a handful of people escape:

The ones left all started forgetting too, and disappeared. Wandered right out of their houses and couldn't remember how to get back, or died of starvation in one room, unable to figure out how to unlock a door or that there was an upstairs, until the doors themselves vanished from the walls and the stairs flattened to hallways, trapping them forever. . . . Who would have thought that you'd need a shadow to work a key or recall your mother's name?

This concept then begs the question: Which memories are the most essential, and which are the most precious? Shepherd encourages the reader to think about what means the most to them and what constitutes survival. Those who do remember live in such terror of the Forgetting that they compulsively document their actions and thoughts in case they or their loved ones need to refer to them later.

The protagonists' behavior exemplifies this approach. Max wears a tape recorder around her neck and speaks into it constantly. As she feels her memories slipping, she both documents and resists this feeling. As she tells her partner, Orlando (Ory):

I refuse to forget. It took all of me, but I refuse to let it have the last thing, which is you. Ory. I remember you. I remember your name. I remember I touched your face, on your eyebrow above your scar; I remember a football; I remember night and a mountain; I remember you gave me this speaking machine, but I don’t know why.

The plot largely revolves around the connections that grow among the widely scattered groups of survivors with memories, but it also spotlights numerous kinds of hazards that befall those who become shadowless forgetters. As Max and Ory become separated, he embarks on a quest with a dual-purpose: to find her and to figure out how they can survive.

Although confounded by the tragedy that has overtaken the world, Ory cannot spare the energy to fathom why it might have occurred:

Where did the shadows go? Ory wondered. He didn't even care about the why any more. Only the where. The why was inexplicable. Ory didn't believe in magic, but he knew in his heart that what had happened was nothing that could be understood by humans. It was no natural disaster, no disease, no biological weapon. The best name he'd ever heard for it was curse.

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