Editorial Note – I was given a copy of Katrin Schumann’s The Forgotten Hours in return for a review.
The Forgotten Hours by Katrin Schumann is a thought-provoking and compelling story about family loyalty and the secrets we keep from ourselves. This well-crafted novel is especially important in the #MeToo era.
The #MeToo movement was first started in 2006, when Tarana Burke coined the phrase “Me Too” as a way to help women who had survived sexual violence. In October 2017, the #MeToo movement became a viral sensation on social media in an attempt to demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment. There’s been major impacts thanks to the movement and it’s also encouraging people to talk more openly about sex and consent.
This is a story that feels ripped-from-the-headlines and will generate much discussion among readers. It’s about the fallout of a New York family after a teen accuses her best friend’s father of sexual assault. It intertwines the now-grown daughter’s memories with her desperate search for answers, and explores the confounding pull of loyalty, as well as the transformative power of truth.
After a prologue, we meet Katie Gregory as her life is looking up: she’s working in New York City at a good job and her boyfriend is a passionate artist. But she never can quite leave her past behind, especially now that her father who went to prison for sexual assault is now getting out. While Katie was always steadfast in her loyalty for her father, now that he’s about to leave prison, details of that fateful night resurface and old memories collide with new realities.
The chapters alternate between the night in question and the present as Katie faces the implications of her father’s reentry into her life. The story is told in third-person perspective focusing on Katie’s experiences in the past and present so we experience everything as Katie does. We learn just how close she was with her friend Lulu who will eventually accuse her father of assault. Katie also talks fondly about memories of her father as a devoted dad. It’s quite complicated for Katie as she is a bystander of both the accused and the accuser. She clearly loves them both. But family loyalty wins over friendship and now she’s the only person her father can rely on.
Each of the characters are written very well and felt real, especially Katie as she’s stuck in the middle of an impossible situation. The friendship between Katie and Lulu before the accusation felt genuine and ever the more heartbreaking when it ends. The characters are quite layered and complex.
The mystery comes down to this: did her father sexually assault Lulu? The dual narrative builds tension and gives hints along the way.
The fleeting nature of memory
Much of the story is about how memory isn’t always a reliable source and the impact of trauma on our recollections. Early on, Katie talks about the ability to not think about bad events, she almost can “shelve” them in a way for another time. But she’s not able to escape it now. But still, the strongest pull for her is loyalty to her father. When she remembers the night, she believes nothing happened and says to herself:
At least, that’s the way she remembers it.
But by connection again with people from the past, she is forced to take on the journey of discovery.
It’s an interesting concept because we like to believe our memories are truth-tellers. But so much can skew what actually happened. It’s almost like the game of telephone, where each version of the story becomes just a little more different. Still, though, is it that we simply don’t recall what happened or are we keeping secrets from everyone, including ourselves? As I mentioned, this one will make you think.
Difficult subject matter
There’s no question it’s hard to read about sexual abuse. But I will say, the subject matter, while difficult, is handled with compassion in this read. One of the issues prior to the #MeToo movement becoming widespread was that people, especially women, didn’t talk about these experiences. It’s never easy to read or hear about it but everyone who has suffered deserves a voice and we all must listen. I hope that no one would be discouraged to read this because it deals with hard topics because in the end, while this is fiction, it’s very much rooted in reality.