Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 798
You Must Remember This is a chronicle of the Stevick family from 1946 to 1956. The primary movement in the novel involves the love affair between Enid Maria Stevick and her half-uncle Felix. The novel also deals with many other love relationships of Stevick family members.
The novel begins with a shocking description of Enid’s attempt to commit suicide by ingesting an overdose of aspirin. The story then moves back to an earlier time in the family history, the time that led to the suicide attempt. Enid’s preoccupation with death as a child is clear as she looks at a picture of a boy who tried to escape from a Nazi death camp. Oates describes the poverty of the Stevick family and the neighborhood in which they live, an area in which the air is polluted by chemicals from nearby factories. There is an emphasis on sex and violence in their lives.
The first and only time that Enid sees her Uncle Felix box occurs when Lyle Stevick takes his children to a boxing match. Enid is the youngest child of the Stevick family in attendance. Although she is shocked and almost overwhelmed by the blood and violence of what she sees and wonders why people would want to hurt each other like that, she is impressed at seeing her uncle in a new way. Felix seems a person that Enid does not know, and she wonders if he would know her.
One senses the sexual undercurrent between Enid and Felix from the beginning. On the beach near the summer cottage of Geraldine and Neal O’Banan, the sister and brother-in-law of Enid, Felix offers to give fourteen-year-old Enid a boxing lesson. The “boxing lesson” becomes more sexual in nature as it continues. Felix is snake-quick in his movements, which leave Enid frustrated because she cannot return his blows. After a while, Enid springs at her uncle in a frenzy, and Felix sees that he has gone too far. Love and hate are often closely connected in the relationship of Felix and Enid.
The day after the boxing lesson, Felix offers to take Enid for a drive. They visit the vast old Hotel Rideau, which Felix has purchased. Felix and Enid begin to play a game of hide and seek, which ends with the drunken Felix attacking his niece.
Felix apologizes the next day, but his attack awakens in Enid her latent adolescent passion for her uncle. Felix realizes immediately that he has made a terrible mistake. Since Enid is the daughter of his half-brother Lyle, the attraction is even incestuous. Felix pleads with Enid to keep silent and to forget his attack on her. Enid’s passion has been aroused, however, and she will not end her affair with her uncle. When Felix tries to end their relationship, Enid, in a romantic gesture, attempts suicide by carefully ingesting forty-seven aspirin tablets. Partly from guilt and fear and partly because Enid’s strong will to die attracts him, Felix recommences their surreptitious love affair after Enid leaves the hospital. The intense feelings of the lovers contrast sharply with the drab, conventional world of the other Stevick family members.
The furtive romance of Enid and Felix goes on, in motels far enough from Port Oriskany that no one will identify them. Felix gives drinks of vodka and wine to his niece to “loosen her up.” Their clandestine affair continues, with Felix at first being careful not to make any mistakes during their encounters. Oates details the blood, pain, violence, and anger that accompany Enid’s loss of virginity in this love-hate relationship.
Felix is out of town often, involved in real-estate transactions. Enid continues attending high school, developing a circle of friends. Felix sees Enid occasionally, but a traumatic experience for him occurs when he glimpses Enid outside her school at lunch time with a circle of friends, male as well as female. Possessively, jealously, he carries her away from her school, and they make love in his car. In his jealousy and passion, Felix fails to take precautions, and Enid finds herself pregnant. Felix arranges for her to have an abortion. The blood, pain, resentment, and guilt that Catholic Enid feels at her abortion are convincingly described.
Felix loses his youth in the course of the novel as Enid loses her attraction for death. The novel ends as the former lovers go their separate ways. Felix is hospitalized after being severely beaten by the father of Jo-Jo Pearl, the young man, now deceased, for whom Felix was a mentor in boxing. After Felix recovers, he telephones Enid to say that he is going to be married and will move away from Port Oriskany. Enid also will leave Port Oriskany, to study music at the Wescott School in Rochester,
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