The Only Words that are Worth Remembering

By Jeffrey Rotter

Metropolitan Books | 2015 | 209 pages | $26.00

Reviewed by Michael Carey

Jeffrey Rotter

“Sorrow and solitude: the only words that are worth remembering.” This quote from Jeffrey Rotter’s The Only Words that are Worth Remembering answers the question induced by the novel’s title. The book is centered around the Van Zandt family, but more specifically Rowan Van Zandt, the youngest twin in the family of four. He is the weaker and gentler brother, and as such, he represents the reasonable base for their family unit.

The Van Zandts live in a future in which our civilization has collapsed and much of our progress with it. Truth deemed dangerous has been discounted as myth, including astronomy. The Earth once again is the center of the universe and is surrounded by the “Night Glass”, through which there is no escape. This is common knowledge to the Van Zandt’s until they run into some trouble and find, to stay together as a family, their only option is to agree to be shot into space.

The story is told from Rowan’s point-of-view as he recounts the adventure to his young daughter, trying to impart life lessons to the unsuspecting three-year old. Rotter hooked me early with his style, choices, and delivery. The world he creates is familiar and strangely believable. He leads us on a fun adventure with an intriguing group that fulfills each other in oddly comfortable ways and is bonded by the special ties of family. Questions in the reader’s mind of where Rotter and Rowan might lead him or her are vast as the night sky above.

Then the story reaches a point, and the questions quickly dissolve. Answers pour in, and possibilities are eliminated. The story slows (at least for me) leaving only, “How does he get from here to there?”

Rotter carries the reader through though on the deeper level of the journey: Rowan’s search. And he searches, for pages and pages. The early sense of adventure had my heart racing. I was ready to run, but then the book slowed to a walk.

Strange encounters meant (I’m assuming) to entertain fell short of their mark. However Rowan emerges in a good place. He finds what he is looking for and tries, in the telling of his story, to teach his daughter the lessons he learned: lessons of sorrow and solitude; lessons of family and loss; lessons of life.

I have broken the novel into two parts: a compelling, quick-paced adventure and a slower, more thoughtful trek. As a whole, Rotter delivers a journey of meaning. The fun, adventure, and humor all fall short of the resonating message of the sadness of a life alone, summed up with a memorable last line that reiterates Rowan’s view on life.

I believe Rotter accomplished in this novel what he set out to. It delivers a spectrum of emotions that will satisfy most readers. Aside from the price (I get it, but $26.00 for a novel will probably cause me to pick something else) and the shift in the pace, I found The Only Words that are Worth Remembering a fun read that maintains a serious sense of reality within its uniquely imagined realm.

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