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Originally published Friday, March 29, 2013 at 5:01 AM

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‘Love Water Memory’: an amnesiac looks for her life

Seattle author Jennie Shortridge’s new novel, “Love Water Memory,” tells the story of Lucie, an amnesiac young woman who is not sure she likes who she was before she lost her memory. Shortridge appears at several bookstores in the Seattle area in April.

Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearances

Jennie Shortridge

The author of “Love Water Memory” will appear this month at these area locations:

• At 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Elliott Bay Book Co., 1521 10th Ave., Seattle; free (206-624-6600 or www.elliottbaybook.com).

• At 7:30 p.m. April 25 at Eagle Harbor Book Co. on Bainbridge Island (206-842-5332 or eagleharborbooks.com).

• At 6:30 p.m. April 26 at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park (206-366-3333 or thirdplacebooks.com).

•At 7 p.m. April 29 at Parkplace Books in Kirkland (reading with Erica Bauermeister). (425-828-6546 or parkplacebookskirkland.com).

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It’s a compelling opening scene: A woman in an Armani suit and carrying a Gucci bag is balancing on her Prada pumps knee-deep in the freezing water of San Francisco Bay, wondering who she is and how she got there.

“Love Water Memory” (Gallery, 328 pp., $24.95), the fifth novel from Seattle author Jennie Shortridge, grabs the reader’s attention from the first page, when we first meet the amnesiac Lucie Walker (whom her fiancé identifies by her photo on the TV news). Everything about Lucie is a mystery — she can remember neither her name nor her profession ... nor her fiancé.

The doctor tells her she has “dissociative fugue,” possibly brought on by severe emotional trauma, but what kind of trauma could have caused her “fugue” (or “flight”) condition? Why does she have “enough makeup to paint a Las Vegas showgirl” inside the massive Gucci handbag? And why can’t she remember anything about her past, least of all her putative beloved, Grady, who is flying to San Francisco to take her back to the Northwest?

Longing for an “aha!” moment when her memories click into place, Lucie is dismayed when the arrival of Grady, a mild-mannered and gentle Native American/Irish man, triggers no recognition whatsoever. (Any thought that Lucie might have been fleeing an abusive fiancé disappears pretty quickly after we make Grady’s acquaintance.)

After an awkward and mutually dismaying reunion, the pair head back to Seattle to their house — which is completely unfamiliar to Lucie. She peers wonderingly into well-organized closets and drawers full of designer goods, sends Grady to the spare bedroom, and begins discovering who “the old Lucie” really was.

At this point the narrative slows down considerably. Author Shortridge passes the point of view around among Lucie, Grady and (later) the aunt whom Lucie hasn’t seen in two decades. As Grady tells his fiancée (and the reader) about her past — her parents died when she was 15, and she subsequently lived with the aunt, whom she didn’t like — very little strikes a chord with Lucie.

Even when he explains that the two of them were to be married on her upcoming 40th birthday, and that she was heading for a wedding-dress fitting when she fled south to California, no memories click into place.

Gradually, Lucie discovers what she was really like: driven, unfriendly, super-organized, obsessed with exercise and health foods. Now she’s a completely different person. She’s a woman who starts buying candy by the bag, not by the piece, and who has no desire to put on her running shoes and zoom past her neighbors.

The new Lucie is disconcerting, and also attractive, to the ultrasensitive Grady, who has plenty of issues of his own: the early drowning death of his father, and his own fixation on water (he swims obsessively, and likes to stay underwater until he too is close to drowning).

The slow, desultory pace of Lucie’s recovery, and some side issues with Grady (including a fairly serious injury), bog down the pace of the novel. “Love Water Memory” roars back to life in the last seven chapters, however, as Shortridge winds up a compelling and hopeful denouement.

Melinda Bargreen is the former classical music critic for The Seattle Times. She’s a freelance contributor to the Times and reviews concerts for 98.1 Classical KING FM (www.king.org).

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