You Were On My Mind
I usually run far, far away from baby and amnesia stories. So you’d think I’d hate You Were On My Mind, Margot Early’s first novel in her Midwives series. It features a midwife who has lost all but the last ten years of her life, and who also appears to be about ten months pregnant on the book’s cover.
Surprise! I liked it. Quite a bit, actually.
Ivy Walcott turned up in Colorado ten years ago, with a grievous head injury that cost her all her previous memories. She has been “adopted” by mother and daughter Francesca and Tara, and like them, is a practicing midwife (Francesca and Tara are featured in their own books in the trilogy). Although Ivy holds out no hope of discovering her past, a fluke sighting of an ancient missing persons flyer reveals her true identity: Gina Till of Guyandotte, West Virginia. She finds that she has a husband and pre-teen daughter who have long since given her up for dead. Ivy/Gina returns to West Virginia out of a sense of obligation, but doubts whether she, her husband Cullen, and their daughter Gabriela can ever truly be a family again.
Unlike so many soap-opera-ish amnesia tales, this one actually rings true. No flashes of recognition, no convenient recovery of memory. The husband and daughter that Ivy returns to are strangers. Moreover, Ivy discovers quickly that Gina did some things that have caused deep rifts with not only her husband, but his extended family.
You Were On My Mind isn’t a book for someone who likes a close focus on a tumultuous love story. Ivy and Cullen are mature and realistic, and their relationship develops organically as they learn to be comfortable with each other. Watching them develop as a couple is more pleasant than pulse-pounding, but they are both likable enough that you’ll find yourself rooting for them. It turns out that Cullen and his extended family need Ivy’s hard-won wisdom, even as they all wrestle with the ghost of Gina.
The extended Till family is the main source of conflict and drama in the story. Cullen’s father has advanced Alzheimer’s and causes continual crises, and Cullen’s half brother was once Gina’s lover – and may have continued to be even after she married Cullen. The result of the various plotlines is a story that has elements of family saga such as Anne Rivers Siddons or Pat Conroy might write, with childhood dysfunction playing out into adulthood. It also has elements of gothic as Ivy tries to discover what may be a dangerous truth about her lost memories.
I admire the ambition of the various plot lines and issues, and the story was told at a rapid pace that kept me turning the pages. However, I would have preferred a longer and more leisurely telling of such a tale. The emotional impact of some of the scenes was high enough that some time to absorb developments and gain a stronger sense of the characters would have made for a stronger story.
Whatever the weaknesses of this book, they are caused by trying something different, trying to do too much rather than too little. Margot Early doesn’t settle for the monotonous same old, same old that too many books do. I respect that, and also have to give You Were On My Mind thumbs up for making an amnesia plot not only interesting, but credible.