Memory is everything.
After an injury in the ring, amateur boxer Leith Wenz wakes to discover his most recent memories are three years out of date. Unmoored and struggling to face his new reality, Leith must cope anew with painful revelations about his family. His brother is there to support him, but it’s the unfamiliar face of Zach, a man introduced as his best friend, that provides the calm he craves. Until Zach’s presence begins to stir up feelings Leith can’t explain.
For Zach, being forgotten by his lover is excruciating. He carefully hides the truth from Leith to protect them both from additional pain. His bottled-up turmoil finds release through vlogging, where he confesses his fears and grief to the faceless Internet. But after Leith begins to open up to him, Zach’s choices may come back to haunt him.
Ultimately, Leith must ask his heart the questions memory can no longer answer.
I’m so excited to have Leta Blake on the blog today, talking about what inspired her to write her latest book The River Leith. You can read my 9/10 pots of gold review of the book HERE.
“During my research of amnesia and memory for the writing of The River Leith I read through a number of extraordinary cases and it became clear to me that no one amnesia case is exactly like another. Some people with retrograde amnesia retain procedural memories (how to do something, like how to use a sewing machine) and even emotional memories (emotional responses to otherwise neutral stimuli), but they can be lost without any guiding narrative to explain them.
For example, scents that evoke emotional responses consistent with the past, or aversions to foods that the individual once ate to the point of sickness, though they no longer remember the incidents that originally invoked these emotion and fears.
I was fascinated by these variations and, along with a friend’s comment that there is no way to have two first times with someone, I began down a brainstorming path that ended up with the amnesiac character of Leith showing up in my head, voice fully formed, and with a lot of jumbled up emotions to express. I let him take my hand and I followed him down that path.
Another piece of information came from the story of Clive Wearing, a victim of both retrograde and severe anterograde amnesia, which, quite honestly seems like a worse kind of hell than retrograde alone could ever be. He cannot make any new memories at all, and lives, essentially, in a seven second bubble. Every seven seconds, at most, he “wakes up” to a world he can’t recall anything about.
There are only a few things that have managed to survive that bubble: language, his understanding of music, ability to play the piano or conduct, and his absolute and utter love for his wife.
In this fascinating and incredibly moving video, you can see several scenes illustrating Mr. Wearing’s situation. One of the most moving shows that when his wife leaves the room and returns just minutes later, he greets her with enthusiasm and passion as though he hasn’t seen her weeks or months. This happens EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. She leaves and returns. His love for her has survived all.
To quote his wife, Deborah Wearing: Whatever the damage, however devastating the damage, his being, his center, his soul is absolutely functioning as it ever did. The very fact that he is so despairing, so much in anguish, so much in love with me, those are all real human passions, and he’s showing them almost to the exclusion of everything else. All he shows us is raw, human passion, straight from the heart of the mind.
How amazing that this man could be so lost in time and space, and yet his love and passion for his wife endures beyond all else, providing him a net to land in instead of falling through endlessly in confusion!
The character of Leith doesn’t suffer from anterograde amnesia, only retrograde, meaning that he can still make new memories of his life going forward. But there is still a great deal of emotion to explore between his own and his lover’s reaction to the loss of his old memories. Grief is a strange animal, and how does one function in the world when there are feelings you don’t understand and no narrative to hold them for you? And how beautiful is a love that exists even without knowing the story behind it?
These are the themes explored in The River Leith.
Oh, and on a much less serious note, Zach and Leith are cute together, I swear.
Now allow me to present an excerpt from The River Leith in which poor Zach, forgotten by the love of his life, has just met Leith again for the second first time:
“Zach,” Leith said, turning and looking him in the eye. “You asked if there was anything else you could bring me.”
“Yes.” Zach leaned forward. “Anything.”
“Can you bring some photos?”
“Of your father?”
“Yes, and some from my life these last three years or so? I got a card from a girl. Naomi? An ex-girlfriend, Arthur said. I don’t even know what she looks like. Maybe if I saw her picture…”
Zach pressed his lips together and nodded slowly, his eyes flickering. “Sure. I’ll bring them tomorrow.”
Zach’s eyes made Leith think again of the kinglet’s wings as they’d shimmered in the sunlight. “Thanks.” The air in the room felt heavy. He grabbed the item on top of the basket, keeping his tone light. “This is the cheese I want to marry, huh?”
Standing up, Zach clapped his hands lightly in an almost effeminate manner, and the sound broke the moment. The question seemed to bring about a change in Zach, who said, “Yes, it’s your true love. Or so you declared to me a few months ago.”
Zach’s eyes smiled, filled with amused affection. Leith liked it. He wondered what he could say to make Zach smile like that again. It looked much better on him than the tense sadness he’d come in wearing. Then, just as suddenly, the smile was gone.
“I guess I should leave now.”
Leith’s surprise must have shown on his face. “But you just got here.” And I was just starting to feel comfortable with you.
“I wish I could stay, but I…really can’t.”
“You don’t want to share this cheese?”
“Polyamory was never your style,” Zach countered, and then smiled warmly again.
His teeth were very white, and his lips a reddish pink. Leith thought Zach came across as a little prissy, a little uptight, but something about it made him feel like laughing inside. He must have found him amusing before. Obviously, or else they wouldn’t be best friends.
“The thing is, I have a business to run,” Zach went on. “Unfortunately I need to go.”
“What kind of business?”
“Oh, my brother owns a bar. On Fifth Avenue in Park Slope. Or so he tells me. Supposedly I used to work—” Leith let the sentence hang. “Right, so you know that, don’t you?”
Zach spun around, moving the chair back into its original position. But Leith had seen his face twist like he was fighting tears.
He faced Leith again. “Believe it or not it’s the same bar. Arthur’s my business partner. I’ll tell you all about it another day, okay? The doctors say it’s time to start introducing you to some of your history, now that you’ve dealt with—” Zach stopped short.
“My father’s death?”
“It takes some time.”
“Time!” Leith said, and threw his hands up.
“Yes.” Zach stiffly lifted his right hand in a flat-palmed wave. “Well, see you.”
Zach nodded, smiling softly. “Sure, if you want.”
“You’ll bring pictures?”
“Sure.” Zach stood there a long moment, and then turned.
Leith noticed there were multiple decorative zippers on the back pockets of Zach’s jeans, drawing attention to his ass. When Zach looked back at the door, Leith jerked his head up.
“All right then. Goodbye.” Zach’s voice was tight, and he seemed as tense as he’d been when he came in.
Leith remembered what Arthur had said, and he called out just as Zach’s hand touched the door knob. “Zach?”
When Zach turned, his eyes were a hot green, and his lips trembled a little. “Yes?”
“Hey, uh, before you leave…?” Leith held out his arm to indicate the offer of a hug.
Zach hesitated, lower lip in his teeth, but then crossed over to Leith solemnly. When Zach bent down to hug him, Leith felt him relax in his arms. Leith closed his eyes, surprised when his left hand cupped the back of Zach’s neck in an unplanned motion, his fingers tracing the soft hair there. He took a deep breath. A sweet, spicy scent filled his lungs, and suddenly he was warm all over. His heart jolted. He’d smelled that before. Somewhere. He took another deep breath.
“Don’t forget—I’m not going anywhere,” Zach whispered fiercely.
“I thought you were going to work,” Leith whispered, turning his face toward Zach’s ear, having an odd urge to taste the cologne he smelled.
Zach pulled away, his eyes laughing. “You always think you’re so funny, don’t you?”
For a moment Leith thought something else was about to happen, something that made him lick his lips and hold his breath. But then it passed, and he felt like he’d missed something important.
Zach grabbed a piece of the bread. “You don’t mind sharing?”
Leith was tempted to grab it back, thinking that somehow that would be the right thing to do, but he simply shrugged.
“See you tomorrow, Leith.”
“See you.” Leith said, watching the door shut behind Zach. He smelled his fingers. The sweet-spicy scent of Zach’s cologne clung to them, and deep inside his brain something stirred. It made him jumpy; like there was an itch in there he simply couldn’t scratch.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
While Leta Blake would love to tell you that writing transports her to worlds of magic and wonder and then safely returns her to a home of sparkling cleanliness and carefully folded laundry, the reality is a bit different. Instead, piles of laundry and forgotten appointments haunt her life, but the joy of writing and the thrill of finishing a book make the everyday chaos all worth it.
Leta’s educational and professional background is in psychology and finance, respectively, but her passion has always been in writing, and she most enjoys crafting romance stories that she would like to read. At her home in the Southern U.S., Leta works hard at achieving balance between her day job, her writing, and her family.