This Book by A Jones is a slightly sinister story of identity, memory, surveillance and, ultimately, hope. The narrative picks out a brief moment in the life of Carla Reid, a young woman with a singular gift and an unusual job. She has returned to her small hometown somewhere in the southern United States for a specific purpose – to make someone forget. She is forced to spend her life hiding behind disguises, but in an unguarded moment she meets a duo who cause her to question her calling, and she finds herself longing to escape what seems her inevitable destiny.
The opening language is carefully chosen; at this point you don't know who, or even what, is telling the story. The flashback technique used here can often seem trite or contrived in fiction, but not in This Book. Without knowing what was so catastrophic or why, you are instantly intrigued, and you are compelled to turn the page and read on.
This short story sits in the speculative genre, bordering on dystopian. Written in the first person, the tone is conversational with a vaguely foreboding overtone that Jones handles with great skill. Carla's relationship with her work handler, Joe, is defined by a claustrophobic sense of manipulation, as when she seeks his permission to visit her former home. At all times, you feel eyes following her.
I do wonder why, if Carla is required to be anonymous and forgettable, her costumes are so outlandish. If that's an intentional contradiction, then that relationship could be more clearly articulated.
This is an interesting and original story, well told with some insightful moments and vivid imagery. I loved the idea that Mr Williams might remember Carla for the girl who slipped on a popsicle. However, the short story format is unforgiving, and the extended dialogue with Dana and Dylan appears to be little more than filler that doesn't advance the plot.
The ending leaves you feeling an uncomfortable combination of hopeful that Carla will overcome what - or who - controls her and doubtful that it could be possible. It's so very nearly an excellent conclusion, but unfortunately Jones is hinting at a twist or reveal that isn't fully realised.
I give This Book a 4 out of 5 for originality, well-articulated tone and excellent atmosphere. Some sensitive editing and a more clearly drawn conclusion would ramp it up to a 5.
400-word book review