“The Great Forgetting” would have made my list of favorite novels in 2015 if I had actually read it. It got lost in the stacks. Recently I was going through a pile of new paperbacks when I noticed it. The title “The Great Forgetting” aptly describes my experience with this provocative work. I forgot about it. Thankfully I’m receiving this second chance to cover it.
James Renner lives in Akron and he has set both of his novels to some extent in Ohio. In his first book he introduced me to the legend of the Loveland Frog. Are you familiar with it? No? Do a Google search for “Loveland Frog.” You’ll be amazed.
As “The Great Forgetting” begins, Jack Felter has returned to his hometown of Franklin Mills, Ohio. He stayed away for years — circumstances have forced him to return. His father — they call him “The Captain” — is a retired airline pilot and a veteran of the Vietnam War. He is displaying signs of dementia. Jack has come back to help with placing his dad in a care facility.
Jack had stayed away mostly because Sam, his high school girl friend, ended up marrying Tony, his former best friend. Tony had been a doctor at a facility for the mentally ill. Then Tony mysteriously vanished. On that very same day Sam’s brother, a notorious meth dealer, had also disappeared. Now that Jack has returned he wants to find out what happened to Tony. And he still has feelings for Sam.
There are many devilish twists and turns. Suffice it to say that “The Great Forgetting” is a work of alternative history with elements of science fiction. In this strange and speculative world, a giant radio facility in Alaska is broadcasting signals based on an algorithm designed to make everybody forget certain wars, genocides, and centuries of history.
Renner blends in multiple conspiracy theories. Events like the 9/11 attacks and that Malaysian jetliner that vanished into thin air are spooned into this stew with ghastly delight. Germany invades the U.S. WWII ends in 1964. The Cleveland Browns win the Super Bowl. Crazy, right? This is a brilliantly executed novel.