While her husband visits with his two American friends after dinner, Florette decides to take a walk along one of her favorite paths in the Pyrenees Mountains near their home. She suddenly finds herself at the mercy of four unknown travelers when she falls and breaks her ankle. Although very reluctant to offer aid, the men put her on stretcher and begin their journey again. As the bitter cold and rough terrain make the trip even more uncomfortable, Florette recalls her life before and after meeting Thomas. She thinks of the dreams she never achieved and of the happiness she has found in life. Unfortunately for Florette, her rescuers turn out to be her murderers.
Thomas Railles, a painter who at one time gathered information for the CIA, is devastated by the loss of his wife. Thomas wanders through the house, trying just to survive and keep hold of his memories of Florette. He does not want to let go. He does not want to forget. And, in his remembering, memories of his life become more vivid: his final meeting with the Spaniard, his games of billiards with his English neighbor, his childhood, the start of his career in New York, his first love, and his life with Florette. He blames himself for his wife’s murder, wondering if he could have prevented her death had he noticed she’d left and not returned sooner. Thomas is ambiguous about pursuing the investigation into his wife’s murder, but the two Americans, friends since childhood, will not let go of it so easily, especially Bernhard.
It is Bernhard who convinces Thomas to attend the interrogation of the men who murdered Florette despite Thomas’ mixed feelings. When confronted with the man who killed his wife, Thomas is not sure what to do or what to think. A part of him only wants to forget,
a part feels anger and wants revenge, yet another part feels some relief at knowing something of the truth as to what happened.
Forgetfulness is a novel about one man’s journey through the grief after his wife’s tragic death. Thomas seems numb through most the book. His love for Florette
is clear, and the impact of her death takes a heavy toll on him just the same. His art seems to seep up the passion he was unable to release. He
feels angry and sad, yet he rarely expresses himself. His two childhood friends, Russ and Bernhard,
are less closed with their emotions, Russ going through his own family tragedy and Bernhard holding onto his passion for his work, the only thing that really seems to have value in his life.
Author Ward Just’s descriptions and use of language flow beautifully across the pages. Like his main character, Just is an artist
painting a portrait of Thomas and Florette. In the background, Just subtly brings up the topic of America's war on terror and the impact it has on the world, including the French, the society in which expatriate Thomas Railles has settled. The four men who were with Florette in her final hours are believed to be terrorists of sorts, although the novel is not really about that at all. Forgetfulness was not quite what I expected when I first picked it up to read; it was so much more.