Remember Me to Paradise
by Amy Benesch
Reviewed by Scott T. Barnes
This book surprised me on many levels. 'What does it mean to be human?' the alien protagonist asks again and again, and a fascinating portrait is described through his exploits as a duck, a pigeon, a man, a woman, a seal, and myriad other creatures.
That's right, the protagonist is a shapeshifter.
Remember Me to Paradise is a thin book (162 pages) with an unappealing cover from a publisher I'd never heard of (Wolfsinger), and so my endorsement comes as a surprise. Is this a preview of the publishing revolution's outcome where more experimental works can find an audience? I certainly hope so.
Any book that can make me laugh out loud gets a thumbs up, and one with as many life lessons as Remember Me to Paradise gets two thumbs up. The author had hooked me by page eight. Remember Me to Paradise features one of the most unusual protagonists I've ever run across, a shapeshifter who can shift his form at will, becoming any creature, any gender, any form--even the wind. Shapeshifter (one of many such beings) lives in some nebulous place called Paradise where nothing stays fixed for very long. Bored and childlike, both in maturity and in his need to experience new sensations, Shapeshifter accepts an assignment to travel to Earth for something called the Great Council.
Herein lies one of my two quibbles with the book. The excuse for Shapeshifter to go to Earth feels just like what it is: an excuse. A researcher named Phylos from the Great Council believes that many shapeshifters have traveled to Earth and have forgotten their true identities. To confirm his hypothesis, he proposes to send Shapeshifter to find the others. He asks Shapeshifter to confide in him his true name so that Phylos can rescue him if he forgets his identity. Shapeshifter accepts.
Neither Phylos nor Shapeshifter has any plan to contact the other shapeshifters, and Shapeshifter gets so caught up in the new sensations Earth can provide that he forgets his assignment almost immediately upon arrival.
Shapeshifter takes several animal forms, but the most fascinating chapters begin when he arrives in New York City, becomes a man and falls in love with a woman named Alexis. Childlike, he cannot resist (or even understand the need to resist) instant gratification with other women, even though he craves Alexis's love.
This gets even better when he decides to become an actor. What better way to discover what it means to be human? The irony of a shapeshifter pretending to be a human working as an actor makes the story even more delicious.
I won't spoil the plot, but let's say that he becomes more human every day and gets the pain and pleasure of experiencing the whole gamut of human emotions, from love to envy to pity to jealousy. Fortunately for him, Shapeshifter meets another alien who convinces him to try life as a woman, and he gets to experience these emotions from a different perspective. The funniest chapter in the book is the paradigm shift from man to woman where Shapeshifter's perspective changes 180 degrees. (As a man he decides to morph into a near perfect woman; when she looks in the mirror as said woman, she instantly notices that her nose is too wide and a half dozen other 'flaws...'.)
I would be remiss not to mention my second quibble with the book. In the final chapters, the shapeshifter becomes rather sex obsessed. Yes, sex and the emotions it engenders drives the plot, but I wish the author had broadened her study of the human condition into other areas. Shapeshifter's exploits are graphically (at times hilariously) described. If this occurred in the beginning of the book I would have put it down. However, by the time the story took this direction the author had me well hooked.
All in all, despite my two nitpicks Remember Me to Paradise is a great, offbeat read which should please fans of Tim Powers and Julie Ann Weinstein.
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