Victor Aaron is the type of brilliant, industrious person who is smart enough to be a preeminent scientist in the field of Alzheimer’s research and dense enough not to know the first thing about his own heart. We all know someone like this — people long on specialized knowledge but short on social skills. What Rosecrans Baldwin does in his first novel, You Lost Me There, is to show us the world from the perspective of just such a person. The result is an amusing, sometimes exasperating, ultimately endearing book about a man who finally comes to terms with the death of his wife.
Sara, a screenwriter who wrote one big box office hit, died in a car crash three years earlier. Victor’s memory of their marriage is straightforward. In response to an assignment from their marriage counselor “to select five changes of direction in [y]our marriage, and describe each one on an index card,” Victor writes, My marriage went in a single direction, and then it stopped. It is years after Sara’s death that Victor discovers her note cards, which chronicle in great detail moments that Victor can barely recognize. He discovers entire dimensions of his marriage — jealousy, regret, forgiveness — that he hardly knew existed. Is his memory that fallible? “It’s, like, Alzheimer’s of the emotions,” is how one character diagnoses Victor, who fails to notice for months after Sara’s death that the garbage company hasn’t been picking up his trash.
While it’s a bit claustrophobic inside Victor’s head — he is surrounded primarily by women, lovers, confidants and lab partners, who trade places being perpetually baffled by his obtuseness — the novel, set on Mount Desert Island in Maine, has an open, airy feel, and we’ll confess to forgiving any of its flaws simply by virtue of my fond memories of Bar Harbor. Baldwin’s humor has a light, offbeat touch, whether it’s a prank involving deer antlers or a profane greeting card from mother to son.
“Your wife had died and everyone knew but you,” one of the women in his life tells Victor. The index cards are the impetus to finally confront the painful truth that his marriage was not nice, neat and tidy, the way he wants to remember it. Once the cracks begin to show in this false foundation of memory, Victor unravels in various humiliating and liberating ways, one of which involves public nudity and the Rockefellers. Baldwin has a soft landing for him, a smart man humbled by grief but restored by grace. The account of his public exposure appears in the Bar Harbor Times, leading his friends and co-workers to gossip and speculate about Victor’s crack-up. But he is saved by the knowledge that the Times doesn’t publish its police reports online, containing his shame within a small geographical range. “My indiscretion would be fodder for puppy cages for a few more weeks,” Victor muses, “and then would be gone.”