LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
What does it mean to be remembered? It's the question at the heart of "The Reminders," the debut novel from actor, musician and now author Val Emmich. It's the story of Joan Lennon Sully, a 10-year-old girl, who desperately wants to be remembered, and her friendship with Gavin Winters, a bereaved actor and friend of Joan's parents, a man who just wants to forget. Together, the two form an unlikely bond based on Sully's highly superior autobiographical memory. She has perfect recall of almost every single day she's lived.
Val, thanks so much for being with us.
VAL EMMICH: Thanks for having me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I wanted us to start with a short reading. But first, can you set the stage for us? Where do we find Joan at the start of the novel?
EMMICH: She's just finished this little class, which I imagine is - involves singing and acting and all sorts of fun activities for a girl 10 years old. And she's waiting for her father to pick her up. And her father is very late, and she's the last one, and she's sitting with the instructor. And so here we go.
(Reading) What time is it now, I ask, strumming my guitar. Five after 5. A car is coming fast but it passes by. I play a minor chord because I'm not in the mood for a happy sound. Ms. Caroline (ph) looks up at the clouds in the sunny sky and says, it's been so long since we've had rain. Actually, I say, it rained on June 20, which was a Thursday, and that was less than three weeks ago. Is that right? Yes, it is. She seems impressed. Did you always have such an amazing memory? No, I say. I got it when I fell on my head in Home Depot. Ms. Caroline laughs, but I'm telling the truth. My friend Wyatt (ph) knows all about comic books and the Internet, and he told me that falling on my head in Home Depot is what gave me my highly superior autobiographical memory and falling on my head again in Home Depot would make me lose it. That's why I haven't gone back to that store after all these years.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why is Joan so worried that she is going to be forgotten?
EMMICH: Because I am, and I'm the author.
EMMICH: I think...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Really, is that true?
EMMICH: It is. Well, I know I'll be forgotten. And I think you'd have to be a fool to think that anyone will remember any of us. But I think for someone who has a near perfect memory, she's sensitive to this idea of what people remember and what people forget. And she wants to be one of those things that people don't forget.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's talk about the other character in this book, which is Gavin. Tell me a little bit about him and what he's going through and when she first encounters him.
EMMICH: He's just lost his - the love of his life - Sydney. And they are living together in LA. And when Sydney dies, which is only a month ago, Gavin has to live in this house by himself, and he can't take looking around at all the reminders that Sydney left behind. And he starts burning a lot of the stuff when the book opens, but you can't burn these memories. So he leaves LA, and he goes to stay with some friends in New Jersey just to get away from these reminders. And Sydney, Gavin's partner, used to visit this family in New Jersey. And Joan was there, and she was observing and interacting. And she has stuff to tell. And some of it's very small stuff, like what he wore when he came by or what he ate for dinner.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What does Gavin get from his friendship with Joan?
EMMICH: I mean, in a word, he gets renewal. Joan has her own, like, I guess, shallow goal, which is to win this song contest. But...
EMMICH: ...It's a - really, it's a larger goal, which is to matter, you know, to matter not just today but to matter tomorrow, which is a mature goal for anyone, let alone a 10-year-old. But I think it's like a link into a past that he doesn't have access to. These are memories she offers him that he doesn't have. And at first, he's wary because he's trying to turn off this pain. It's like awakening the dead. It's like bringing the past to life. And Gavin can't - he can't deny that offer, you know.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: They get close by working on a song together. As you mentioned, she wanted to participate in this contest. Tell me a little bit about that relationship with music.
EMMICH: Well, music is this thing that's always around in the house with Joan because her father is a musician. He's got this little home studio. And she sees how powerful music is, how it can bring the past to life. And so they start to write the song together. And I think Gavin is unaware of, at first, how he's not just helping her with this song, he's helping himself. Not only is he able to deal with some of his grief through music, but just the communal aspect of songwriting and building something new is healing for him.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You actually recorded the track that Joan and Gavin wrote together.
EMMICH: Yeah, it's called "Leave The Past Behind," and I think it's partially about that, moving on. But in order to move on, I think it's not about ignoring the past but somehow reckoning with it.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LEAVE THE PAST BEHIND")
EMMICH: (Singing) Morning comes and you're not here. An empty bed, but I feel you near. Such a mess you left behind. I'm not so sure I'll make it this time.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: After you wrote this, did you come away with a sense of what it means to be remembered?
EMMICH: I did come up with an answer. And I think part of this book was me trying to deal with that. I don't know why it really bothers me that - I think the speed of our culture. We don't have a lot of time to think about the past. And I was trying to find an answer of, like, what does all this matter? What is...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What is a life?
EMMICH: What is life? Like, yeah, just trying to crack that nut with a novel. I did come up with an answer. I don't want to give it away, but I think what does it matter when we're gone if someone remembers us? We won't be here. Why should we have that cause us turmoil in the here and now? Now, I say that, and I'd like to live towards that, but I still have a battle with that.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Val Emmich. His debut novel is "The Reminders." Thanks so much for being with us.
EMMICH: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LEAVE THE PAST BEHIND")
EMMICH: (Singing) Life began when you arrived. What came before was a waste of time. Now I'm wondering where to go. Some answers I will never know. I could sail into outer space, but even stars, they leave a trace...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lulu Garcia-Navarro.
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