Forget Me Not: A Memoir, Jennifer Lowe-Anker. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books, 2008. Eight pages of black and white photos. 276 pages.
When I picked up Forget Me Not, I anticipated a mediocre book with adequate writing and a one-dimensional presentation of the legendary climber Alex Lowe. Instead, Forget Me Not is one of the most honestly written and engaging books I have read. The writing is clear and descriptive and manages to make readers feel as if they are actually present during the scenes described. Because Alex is presented comprehensively, that is, as an imperfect man, as opposed to a legendary climber, the memoir succeeds in making clear why Jennifer and so many others loved Alex so.
Forget Me Not does not merely spotlight Alex as a climber from his high school days to becoming one of the greatest; instead it offers an intimate look at the 18 years that Alex Lowe and Jennifer Lowe-Anker shared as adventurers, climbers, lovers, parents, and friends. Lowe- Anker adeptly portrays the tension that resided in Alex—an endlessly gnawing tension between his need to climb in faraway places for months at a time, and his need to be with his wife and children.
While there is much to be praised about this memoir, its greatest strength is its honesty in presenting a comprehensive and candid portrayal of Alex. This includes an Alex who is charismatic, loving, driven, and passionate. These characteristics are evident via snippets of letters written by Alex. In Alex’s own words, readers learn of his love of nature, his family, and his friends. Jennifer’s candid portrayal is comprehensive in that it also covers Alex’s darker times. The reader learns of Alex’s quick temper and his habit of becoming distracted and distant when things did not go as he wished. The memoir is not afraid to note times when Alex drank too much, when he lost patience with his children, and when he worried that people would learn he was only “really mediocre.”
The most emotionally charged example of this honesty is an account of the argument Jennifer and Alex had as he departed for the Shishapangma trip that eventually took his life. This argument still haunts her—an argument in which she raged to Alex about his lack of dedication to his family. She admits that questioning his dedication was the lowest of blows, one that brought tears to his eyes. As if the rawness of this argument is not difficult enough to endure, this episode is soon followed by news of Alex’s death in an avalanche. Only one hour before the news was broadcast internationally, she learned on the phone that she’d lost the man she loved—while her three-year-old played happily out back. This section of the memoir gave rise to such intense emotions that I was forced to put it down. I grieved deeply for Alex and all who loved him as if we were just learning of his death.
Though perhaps unintentionally, the memoir makes clear why Alex loved Jennifer as well. She is adventuresome, talented, loyal, committed, and one who is able to love deeply. Perhaps her greatest characteristic, though, is that she understands others. She understood that Alex, like Albert the great horned owl described elsewhere in the memoir, was tamed but could not be caged. Alex “Owlex” Lowe was fortunate to have a wife who understood this and loved him for it. We readers are fortunate she chose to share this beautiful and tragic story with us.