“Maybe this is my chance, my rewind button, my fast-forward button. Both. Whichever. Either way, this is my chance to do things differently.”
~Nell Slattery, via Allison Winn Scotch in The Song Remains the Same
What defines us? Who defines us? How can the past blend with the present to create the canvas of our future? And what role do our memories play? Do they simply add brushstrokes, simply provide background music, or are they more? Are they the notes which – in more ways than one – compose our identities?
These are the questions Allison raises in her new novel THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME, the questions that main character Nell asks of herself as her story unfolds. After surviving a devastatingly tragic plane crash, Nell’s memories are obliterated and she’s left to navigate a world that’s completely foreign. It’s a clean slate, a fresh canvas, a blank songbook. And in some ways, that can be perceived as a positive – because it’s the rewind button, the fast-forward button, the second chance at living life and living it out loud. That’s what the new Nell – the fabulous Nell! – wants. She wants to make this count.
Except that’s easier said than done when her mind cannot, will not, connect to the past, when the entire basis for her identity is irretrievable. With a complete lack of remembrance, Nell is forced to rely on those around her for help – her mother Indira, her sister Rory, her best friend Samantha, her husband Peter, and, perhaps, the person who can save her from all the confusion: Anderson, the man she saved from the plane as it buckled in the air and their flight turned terribly, terribly wrong. But the one person Nell can’t rely on? Her father, the reclusive artist who seemingly once brought so much color to her palette. Two decades after he left, two decades after his demons became too fearsome and he fled from his wife and two daughters, Francis Slattery still has a profound effect on Nell. When she can remember nothing else, she instinctively understands this: that unlocking the key to her father’s past may be the key to unlocking her own.
Or so she thinks. But as the playlist of her life begins to slowly hum on – set to the tunes of “The Best of Nell Slattery,” a catalog of Nell’s formerly defining songs, loaded onto an iPod for her courtesy of Rory – she begins to realize that nothing is what it seems. Nothing is what she imagines. Nothing is what she hopes. Lyric by lyric, piece by piece, she begins to make sense of the puzzle, to learn about who she was, and, in the process, who she is. The music is her memory, her connection to times gone by. It guides her, it teaches her, it reminds her. And so does her family, but as Nell comes to understand, memories can be – and are – shaped by the people who live them. We are defined not only by our self-perceptions, but by the perceptions of others. Sometimes we need to lean on them and need to accept their help. But when it comes to matters of the heart and soul, when it comes to the relationships which weigh us down and lift us up, it’s most important to look inside. Only when we do that can we achieve our own kind of strength.
For Nell, betrayal runs deep. Her strength is tested by the reality of secrets kept, experiences buried, and worlds spinning in concentric circles. As she faces who she was, as she learns why there are parts of her past not meant to make it to her future, she comes to learn that while some leopards never change their spots, others do. Others can. Others will. The song of Nell’s life remains the same until she takes matters into her own hands, truly embraces her second chance, and changes its tune. And as she does, readers are left to wonder – what would we do in a similar circumstance? How would we rebuild if that foundation was seemingly gone? Who would we trust, how would we perceive ourselves, what would be revealed if we held a mirror up to years gone by and years still to come? As always, Allison’s words make us think, make us wonder, make us contemplate, make us relate – and that makes Nell’s journey as resonant as the songs which fill the book’s pages.