There's just one problem. That was ten years ago.
Alice slipped in her step-aerobics class, hit her head and lost a decade. Now she's a grown-up, bossy mother of three in the middle of a nasty divorce and her beloved sister Elisabeth isn't speaking to her.
This is her life but not as she knows it.
Just how many mistakes can you make in a decade?
Can she ever get back to the woman she used to be?
What Alice Forgot is a novel by Liane Moriarty, who has also written Big Little Lies.
This novel contains examples of the following tropes:
- Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: Nick regards his father Roger as this for being an odious, big-mouthed lout. Alice regards her mother Barb as this for marrying Nick's father. And then there's the scene where the two of them do a sexy salsa dance routine on stage in front of a crowd of people...
- Became Their Own Antithesis: Alice at twenty-nine was a lovable goofy slacker. Alice at thirty-nine is precisely the sort of super-sensible, hyper-effective woman who she used to hate the most.
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: Frannie clearly has it with Xavier from the word go, which her blog's comment section picks up on long before she's willing to admit it herself.
- Central Theme: People and relationships change over time, often in unpredictable ways, and it usually can't be explained by any one factor or event but by a lot of tiny things adding up.
- Cool Big Sis: Alice always looked up to Elisabeth for being so much more sensible and together than her. She's shocked that in the present day Elisabeth is a hollow wreck of a person and the two of them have drifted apart.
- Deuteragonist: Elisabeth gets her own point-of-view sections in the form of the journal entries she writes as part of her therapy and effectively has her own plot that's unrelated to Alice's. A number of Frannie's blog entries are also included and contain a very minor subplot about her feud with Xavier, making her the tritagonist.
- Distant Finale: The last chapter skips forward in time to show that Alice's life has again changed in ways she would have considered unthinkable.
- Divorce Is Temporary: Double-subverted. Alice spends most of the novel wanting to get back together with Nick and finally convincing him to give it a try. Then she gets her memories back, remembers all the reasons why they split up in the first place, and is horrified at what she almost did. The second-to-last chapter shows that she and Nick have become Amicable Exes and Alice is pleased at having gotten perspective on the whole thing. And then the last chapter reveals that they got back together a year later.
- Doesn't Know Their Own Child: Alice can't even remember their existence, much less know anything about them beyond what she's being told.
- Double-Meaning Title: The title refers to Alice forgetting ten years of her life, but also to her having forgot a number of things during those ten years, like how to relax and have fun.
- Driving Question: How did Alice and Nick go from being Sickening Sweethearts to existing in a state of barely restrained loathing? As a number of people tell Alice over the course of the novel, there isn't actually a simple answer along the lines of "he had an affair." There were a ton of different internal and external factors driving them apart.
- Easy Amnesia: The central conceit. Alice got hit on the head and lost ten years.
- Future Me Scares Me: Everything Alice learns about the person she's become fills her with disgust. When she gets her memories back and returns to normal, she dismisses her twenty-nine-year-old self as insufferably naive and foolish, though she admits that the kid might have had the occasional point.
- The Ghost: Dr. Jeremy Hodges, Elisabeth's psychiatrist, never shows up in the story but all Elisabeth's point-of-view sections are addressed to him.
- Happily Adopted: Averted. Ben hated his adopted parents and absolutely wants a biological child. Presumably played straight with the three children he and Elisabeth ends up adopting.
- Honorary Uncle: Frannie isn't actually Alice's and Elisabeth's real grandmother, just a neighbour who stepped in and made sure they were cared for when their mother fell apart following their father's death. At this point in their lives, though, they barely seem to remember the distinction anymore.
- Housewife: Alice quit her job at some point to focus on raising the kids. That part is actually not one of the things that surprise her, though - she was never that keen on working anyway. What shocks her is how ambitious and strict she's gotten about the business of homemaking.
- Insufferable Genius: Tom is a pint-sized version.
- Laser-Guided Amnesia: Alice loses ten years of her life and spends the novel trying to work out what happened during them.
- Law of Inverse Fertility: Elisabeth and Ben want a baby so badly that they practically wreck their lives over the course of ten years trying to conceive one.
- Motor Mouth: Barb talks incessantly and blithely skips from topic to topic for as long as the people around her will let her.
- Must Have Caffeine: One of the habits Alice turns out to have picked up in her lost years. It turns out that the headache she suffers from in the first few days isn't just from the concussion - she's also in caffeine withdrawal without being aware of it.
- The Nondescript: Alice was this back in school. She would get report cards that were so vaguely phrased that she suspected that her teachers couldn't actually remember who she was.
- Not Blood Siblings: Alice and Nick are technically step-siblings, since his divorced father and her widowed mother married each other in their old age.
- Obsessed Are The List Makers: When trying to get a handle on her current responsibilities, Alice reflects that there must be a list of things to do somewhere around the house, because the person she's become seems like the type who makes lists.
- Once More, with Clarity!: A mild example, but when Alice's memories come rushing back, we get to see all the events she's been told about over the course of the novel from her perspective, which makes it more clear why she acted like she did at each point.
- Pet the Dog: At one point when Barb is talking people's ears off, Roger gently leads her away while encouraging her to tell him all about it. Alice notes that as self-obsessed as he is, he genuinely does love Barb. The fact that Barb seems to living her life much more vigorously since marrying Roger probably also counts - while Alice can't for the life of her see why, he really does seem to make her happy.
- Posthumous Character: Gina. She's long dead by the time the story starts, but as Alice notes, everything eventually seems to connect back to her.
- Romantic Runner-Up: Dominick. He's a really Nice Guy and all, and Alice thinks she could have been happy with him too, but there's just no competing with the sort of history she has with Nick.
- Self-Serving Memory:
- Nick at one point tells Alice that she once got very angry with him for "eating a few cherries," which she can't deny sounds like an overreaction. When she gets her memories back, she recalls it as him eating half of a fruit platter she meant to bring with her as a gift.
- Alice at one point gets a memory of catching Nick kissing another woman. It never actually happened. Her friend Gina caught her husband Mike kissing another woman, and Alice took it so personally that it got mixed up in her mind.
- The Shrink: Dr. Hodges falls into the well-meaning but ineffective category. Much of Elisabeth's sections is taken up by her complaining about how useless he is and how their sessions aren't helping her at all.
- Wedding-Enhanced Fertility: Alice and Nick had their first child by accident soon after being married. Justified in that while they weren't actively trying, being married made them more inclined to be careless about birth control.
- Wham Line: One so whammy In-Universe that Alice still remembers it after forgetting almost everything else, even though it wasn't directed at her.I'm sorry, but there is no heartbeat.