Daniel Jones (review date May 1992)
SOURCE: A review of Amnesia, in Quill and Quire, Vol. 58, No. 5, May, 1992, p. 19.
[Jones is a novelist. Below, he favorably reviews Amnesia.]
An archivist, who suffers from amnesia, sits in his office. He is to be married in four hours. A stranger, Izzy Darlow, enters the office and, for the next several hours, relates his life story to the archivist. The archivist subsequently misses his own wedding.
This is, ostensibly, the plot of Douglas Cooper's first novel, Amnesia. Through Izzy's story, however, Cooper explores a bewildering variety of themes and subjects: storytelling and its relation to memory, obsession, and madness, and the landscape of Toronto, to name a few.
Izzy's story is centred on his dysfunctional family. Physically isolated from one another by the very design of their labyrinthine house in Toronto's Annex neighbourhood, the family members are free to develop their eccentricities. Izzy's brother, Aaron, conducts elaborate experiments designed to reanimate the dead; Josh, the youngest brother, wanders the streets at night and meets a violent death; the father, a developer, grows more and more estranged from his family.
In his late teens Izzy finds companionship with a young woman, Katie, whom he meets in the hospital where he volunteers. Katie has been driven to madness by an incident in her childhood—which may or may not have been instigated by Izzy—and now is suffering from amnesia, a result of shock therapy.
Izzy's inability to admit, or to remember, his complicity in Katie's madness is paralleled by the archivist's own amnesia and hesitation about his marriage. But Izzy's "amnesia" has darker origins. As a child, reading accounts of the Holocaust, he was forced to come to terms with his own complicity in the horrors perpetrated by men and women against one another.
For Cooper, as for the eccentric characters who populate this novel, the telling of stories becomes both a means of restoring a lost history and a moral imperative, a necessary act of memory in a world where it is easier to forget. While Amnesia explores a variety of large and interconnected issues, it is remarkable for the lucidity and power of its prose. Cooper has written an engaging first novel. For its evocation of Toronto, both past and present, Amnesia deserves to be shelved between Cat's Eye and In the Skin of the Lion.