Eleanor “Nell” Margaret Slattery survives the crash of a 757 airliner over Iowa. In fact, she is one of only two survivors, the other being Anderson Carroll, a well-known actor whose exploits often make tabloid headlines. Nell awakens in a hospital to find strangers hovering. She soon realizes that she has absolutely no memory of her life prior to the accident.
As Nell begins recuperating, Peter, the man who claims to be her husband, along with her mother and sister, Rory, tell her about who she was prior to the crash. Anderson tells her about their conversation as they sat next to each other on the ill-fated flight, and as Nell watches television news coverage of the tragedy, she feels an odd kinship with the primary reporter, Jamie Reardon, although she is confident she has never met him.
Nell is confident that she lived in a spacious, airy apartment, wore fashionable and colorful clothes . . . her life was fabulous and she was fabulous, much like the character of Rachel on the hit television sitcom, Friends. However, as she peruses old photo albums and listens to “The Best of Nell Slattery,” a compilation of her favorite music, she realizes that she existed in a sphere of neutrals — beige and gray — rather than the “technicolor” that seems consistent with her new self-perception, and never fully enjoyed herself. Now she longs for the laugh track that she hears on Friends episodes and a bright red sofa in her living room . . . and wonders why the details she is gradually learning about her life are at odds with the person she believes she was and is.
What would you do if you suddenly awoke to find that not only do you not recall any of the events in your life, the people with whom you have interacted your entire life, or even your own personality, i.e., likes, dislikes, temperament? How would you react to the people surrounding you, claiming to be your mother, sister, and spouse, when they appear to be total strangers? Whom would you trust as you attempted to learn what you experienced before losing your memory: who and what you loved, what your relationships were like, what profession you pursued, and even what types of clothing, furnishings, and music you preferred?
That’s the premise of author Allison Winn Scotch’s new novel, The Song Remains the Same. Thirty-two-year-old Nell’s mind is a blank slate and she must try to rebuild her life, but with no frame of reference in the form of memories, she is baffled about how to start. Her instincts tell her that Peter, her husband, is not right for her, but she has no idea why. Worse, she feels she can trust reporter Jamie Reardon as she watched his reports about the crash, even though she has no idea why she finds herself drawn to him. She learns that she operates an art gallery in New York City, while her mother, Indira, is a grating hippie-like free spirit who seems to enjoy shocking Nell with details of her sex life with her boyfriend.
You can never trust someone else when it’s your story to tell.~ Nell in The Song Remains the Same
And then there’s Nell’s father, who is entirely absent, but none of her family members are forthcoming with the details concerning how long it has been since Nell has seen him or why he apparently disappeared so many years earlier. He was a famous painter, which only increases the media attention and curiosity focused upon Nell. But when she learns that he named her after Eleanor Rigby, the character in the icon Beatles hit, she is distraught, wondering what kind of parent would name their child after such a dour character and, worse, whether that set the stage for her pre-accident joyless existence.
Against a soundtrack of pop culture tunes that were among Nell’s favorites, Scotch crafts a mesmerizing portrait of a woman whose authentic self has been suppressed for many years. Now aware of the dissonance between who she believes she is and the mounting evidence of who she actually was, Nell begins a journey toward understanding herself and her life thus far, and rebuilding her life in a manner that will bring her happiness she never previously knew. But before she can embrace her future, she must understand her past. That requires learning to trust, but should she follow her own gut instincts or believe the version of events relayed by her loving family members. As the story progresses, Scotch injects riveting details about Nell’s relationships with Peter, Rory, her mother, and, of course, her absent father, that bring all of their motives into question. Scotch inspires readers to wonder, along with Nell, how others would explain their lives if asked? What salient points would they include in the narration and which would be deliberately omitted? Scotch deftly times the revelations for maximum emotional impact upon Nell, the supporting characters, and, of course, her readers.
The Song Remains the Same is an absorbing portrait of a woman at loose ends who has suffered harrowing trauma but been given a chance to start her life anew. Nell’s journey toward healing requires her to stare down and exorcise long-lingering emotional demons and resolve years-old conflicts with and resentments toward her family members. She must also confront the truth about her marriage to Peter and either embrace the decisions about that relationship that she had made prior to the crash, or make new choices. Every aspect of The Song Remains the Same is believable. Nell, dubbed “The Ice Queen” in high school, is a sympathetic character to whom readers will become attached. The novel would make an excellent book club choice because the themes lend themselves to enthusiastic discussion about starting over, making new choices, reconciling oneself to the past, and healing old wounds. I highly recommend The Song Remains the Same!