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A Novel

Written by Bret Anthony JohnstonAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Bret Anthony Johnston



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On Sale: May 13, 2014
Pages: 400 | ISBN: 978-0-8129-9616-6
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ABOUT THE BOOK ABOUT THE BOOK
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fiction (9) kidnapping (7) texas (5) family (5)
fiction (9) kidnapping (7) texas (5) family (5)
Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
The New York Times Book Review • Esquire • BookPage

A gripping novel with the pace of a thriller but the nuanced characterization and deep empathy of some of the literary canon’s most beloved novels, Remember Me Like This introduces Bret Anthony Johnston as one of the most gifted storytellers writing today. With his sophisticated and emotionally taut plot and his shimmering prose, Johnston reveals that only in caring for one another can we save ourselves.
 
Four years have passed since Justin Campbell’s disappearance, a tragedy that rocked the small town of Southport, Texas. Did he run away? Was he kidnapped? Did he drown in the bay? As the Campbells search for answers, they struggle to hold what’s left of their family together.
 
Then, one afternoon, the impossible happens. The police call to report that Justin has been found only miles away, in the neighboring town, and, most important, he appears to be fine. Though the reunion is a miracle, Justin’s homecoming exposes the deep rifts that have diminished his family, the wounds they all carry that may never fully heal. Trying to return to normal, his parents do their best to ease Justin back into his old life. But as thick summer heat takes hold, violent storms churn in the Gulf and in the Campbells’ hearts. When a reversal of fortune lays bare the family’s greatest fears—and offers perhaps the only hope for recovery—each of them must fight to keep the ties that bind them from permanently tearing apart.
 
Praise for Remember Me Like This
 
“Enthralling . . . [an] exquisitely moral mystery of how we struggle to accept and love the people we call family.”The New York Times Book Review (Editor’s Choice)
 
“I love this novel.”—John Irving
 
“An achingly beautiful and psychologically insightful portrait of a family . . . [a] fully immersive novel in which the language is luminous and the delivery almost flawless.”The Boston Globe
 
“Riveting . . . [The novel] flows like it was plotted by Dennis Lehane but feels like it was written by Jonathan Franzen.”Esquire
 
“Tremendously moving . . . There’s real humanity in Johnston’s writing, and it’s heartening to spend time with these folks as they relearn how to be a family.”—Ron Charles, The Washington Post
 
“Deeply empathetic and masterfully constructed . . . a novel that has both the feel of a great epic and the focused intensity of standing on a highwire.”Salon

Excerpt

1

Months earlier, the June heat on Mustang Island was gauzy and glomming. The sky hung close, pale as caliche, and the small played-out waves were dragging in the briny, pungent scent of seaweed. On the beach, people tried holding out for a breeze from the Gulf, but when the gusts blew ashore, they were humid and harsh, kicking up sand that stung like wasps. By midday, everyone surrendered. Fishermen cut bait, surfers packed in their boards. Even the notoriously dogged sunbathers shook out their long towels and draped them over the seats in their cars, the leather and vinyl scalding. Lines for the ferry stretched for half an hour, though it could seem days before the dashboard vents were pushing in cool air. Porpoises wheeled in the boats’ wakes, their bellies pink and glistening.

After the short pass across the Laguna Madre, the ferry docked on the north jetty and drivers moved onto the mainland through the small, flat town of Southport, Texas. They passed an anchor-shaped monument embossed with the words welcome aboard, then the tackle shops and bait stands and the old rust-pocked pickups where men sold shrimp from ice chests. To the west, behind the leaning palm trees with their husks as dry and brown as parchment, the soapy bay fanned into the horizon. There was the public boat ramp and marina and the half-razed Teepee Motel, now nothing more than a cluster of concrete teepees hemming a drained kidney-shaped pool. A faded vinyl banner for the upcoming Shrimporee sagged over the diagonal parking places on Main Street, then popped and opened up in the wind; the Shrimporee was in September. On the asphalt, puddles of heat appeared, shimmered, evaporated. The seafood restaurants and a spate of garishly painted souvenir shops lined Station Street, then just before the town yielded to the blacktop highway came the Whataburger and H-E-B grocery and Loan Star Pawnshop, whose rusted arrow marquee sign announced, we buy window units! The pawnshop’s crushed-shell parking lot was crowded this time of year—shrimpers hocking tools between good hauls, surfers hunting for wet suits, men from the Coast Guard quibbling over fishing rods. Today, the last Wednesday of the month, a man was trying to sell one of the pawnbrokers an old Cadillac, a cream-colored Fleetwood Brougham. The hood was raised and the ragtop was lowered, and the men stood in the pale sun—squinting, haggling, appearing stranded to everyone who passed.

Across town, in the Villa Del Sol condominium complex, Eric Campbell stood under a cool shower, listening. He thought he’d heard his phone buzzing, but either it had stopped or he’d been mistaken. He’d left the phone next to his watch and wedding band on the nightstand. He opened the shower curtain, leaned out, waited. The only sounds were the water pulsing through the showerhead and the air-conditioning unit whirring outside, so he drew the curtain and rinsed off. The afternoon sun slanted in through the bathroom’s skylight. He wondered if they’d break a hundred degrees today, if they hadn’t already. He was glad to have parked his truck in the garage.

The condo belonged to Kent Robichaud. He was a surgeon, and although he and his wife, Tracy, lived on Ocean Drive in Corpus, they’d bought the condo in Southport to be closer to the marina on weekends. They were in their late thirties, originally from the Midwest; they owned a twenty-footer named Thistle Dew. Eric liked Kent. He tried not to think about him when he spent afternoons with Tracy. With summer school in session, they’d gotten into the routine of him coming over after his Wednesday class. Tracy would drive in from Corpus and read the weekly Southport Sun in her breakfast nook until Eric’s truck appeared on the street. Then she’d click open the garage door and make her way to the bedroom, undressing.

Eric always checked messages before stepping out of his truck. Usually there weren’t any. At home, Griffin would still be sleeping, or he’d be playing videogames and waiting for the afternoon to cool off enough to go skateboarding. If Griff wanted to leave the house, he had to call his mother or father for permission; when Eric had thought he heard his phone in the shower, he assumed it was his son. His younger son. Griff had just turned fourteen. Of course, Eric worried it was his wife calling, but he also knew better. Laura rarely dialed his number anymore. Wednesdays were her early shift at the dry cleaner’s, but she had, for the last few months, been driving to Marine Lab in Corpus after work. She volunteered a few times a week, stayed out there until dinner. Later, sometimes. When she came home, she was dog-tired and smelled of frozen herring. She wore an expression, so transparent to Eric (and, he feared, to Griff), of practiced contentment. She would update them on Marine Lab—currently, they were rehabbing a bottlenose dolphin that had beached on the National Seashore—then listen to Griff and Eric talk about their days; Griff usually told them about his skateboarding, and Eric spoke of his seventh graders or other faculty members. If there was nothing to report, he’d invent a sweet or comic story to buoy their spirits. On Wednesdays, he always steeled himself for the question of what he’d done after class, but Laura never asked. It was just another thing they didn’t discuss. Eventually she would excuse herself from the table, kiss Griff on his head, then retire to the bedroom. More often than not, the sun was still in the sky, syrupy and molten, coppering the early-evening surfaces.

When Eric shut off the shower, there was only the steady hum of the air conditioner. Tracy might still be lying across the bed, her eyes closed and her dark hair wild on the pillows, or she might have already stripped the sheets and taken them to the washer. He dried himself with a thick towel, stepped too carefully from the tub. For years, he’d had an unfounded fear of falling in the bathroom, of cracking his skull on porcelain. He’d known no one who’d suffered such a fall, and yet the risk felt familiar and menacing, as if he’d suddenly grown ancient and infirm in the shower. In Tracy’s bathroom, the vanity was marble-topped, sharp-edged and expensive. The whole condo brimmed with upgrades—Saltillo tile, a Viking range, one air-conditioning system for the first floor and another for the second. Every week, the lavishness sullied him; he wouldn’t let his gaze settle on anything. Now, pulling on his boots, he wished he’d already left.

Villa Del Sol had been built after Southport lost its bid for the naval station. Most of the sandstone condos were owned by people from Corpus or by snowbirds, silver-haired retirees who wintered on the coast and caned their way through the souvenir shops on Station Street. “It’s snowing,” Laura used to say when they’d get stuck behind an elderly driver. They lived in a three-bedroom ranch, a few blocks from the house where Eric had grown up where his father still lived. Their house was drafty, in need of a new roof, double-mortgaged to put up the reward money. Every couple of years he had to raise the foundation with bottle jacks.

But when Villa Del Sol first opened, Eric had driven Laura and the boys to an open house. Justin was nine, Griff was seven. Everyone wore church clothes.

“Who can afford one of these?” Laura said in the living room of the model unit. “No one we know.”

“We’re not that far off,” Eric said, trying to sound assured. “Besides, no charge for looking.”

The boys were in the courtyard, hunting rocks. Griff had recently started collecting them, because Justin did. Laura watched them through the bay window. She said, “Guess what Justin asked me last night.”

“If Rainbow could sleep inside?” he said. Rainbow was their black Lab, a dog Eric had bought from a man selling puppies out of his truck bed on Station Street. Rainbow was a good, affable dog, but she’d recently been relegated to the backyard after Eric woke to find her chewing one of his boots.

“Yes, but something else,” Laura said.

“About cusswords? The other day he asked me if there were any he could say without getting in trouble.”

“He asked me to marry him.”

“Oh,” Eric said. “Smart boy.”

“You don’t think it’s weird?”

“He’s got good taste in women, is what I think.”

Laura paced across the room with her hands clasped in front of her. She looked like a woman in a museum, taking care not to bump into exhibits. Were she a stranger, Eric would’ve been struck with longing as he watched her languid movements. His wife—it still shocked him—was beautiful. She returned to the window to watch the boys.

“What are we doing here, honey? We’re not—”

“I thought it’d be fun,” he said. He crouched in front of the fireplace, trying to figure if it worked. Just for show, he thought.

“I don’t want to live anywhere else. Neither do the boys. We love our house.”

“It was just something to do.”

“Sometimes I worry you feel like you need to give us more.”

He couldn’t remember not feeling that way. Though he hadn’t yet told Laura, he’d just agreed to teach summer school. His plan was to surprise everyone with a vacation over Christmas break. The boys had never left Texas.

“We have everything we need,” she said. Outside, Griff was trying to show Justin a piece of limestone he’d found.

“What did you tell him?” Eric asked, pushing himself up from the fireplace.

“Who?”

“Your suitor.”

She smiled as if he’d paid her a compliment. Her eyes stayed on their sons. “I said I loved him very much, but I was already married.”

“He must’ve been heartbroken.”

“Crushed,” she said. “Utterly crushed. But then I helped him sneak Rainbow into his room and he seemed to recover.”

When Eric stepped from the bathroom, Tracy was standing with her back to him. She peered through her bedroom blinds, watching the two sisters who owned the condo across the courtyard. The women were in their eighties, stooped and wire-haired. Tracy loved spying on them. She’d wrapped herself in a sheet that puddled around her ankles and exposed her back. The knuckles of her spine looked like shells in sand. Laura’s body, he thought, might resemble Tracy’s now; she’d lost weight over the last four years. Twenty pounds, maybe more. And ever since Justin had gone missing, she’d let her hair grow out, a protest of sorts, or a show of solidarity. She’d stopped shaving her legs and under her arms, too. Eric couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen his wife naked.

“I think the sisters’ air conditioner’s busted,” Tracy said. “They’re just sitting at the kitchen table, fanning themselves.”

He was tempted to say he’d walk over and take a look, but checked himself. He didn’t want to run into the sisters later. For old girls, they got around just fine. They drove a Lincoln Continental. Eric said, “After I leave, tell them to have someone check the Freon.”
Bret Anthony Johnston

About Bret Anthony Johnston

Bret Anthony Johnston - Remember Me Like This
Bret Anthony Johnston is the author of the award-winning Corpus Christi: Stories, which was named a best book of the year by The Independent (London) and The Irish Times, and the editor of Naming the World: And Other Exercises for the Creative Writer. His work has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, The Paris Review, The Best American Short Stories, and elsewhere. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts literature fellowship and a 5 Under 35 honor from the National Book Foundation. He teaches in the Bennington Writing Seminars and at Harvard University, where he is the director of creative writing.
Praise

Praise

“Enthralling . . . [an] exquisitely moral mystery of how we struggle to accept and love the people we call family.”The New York Times Book Review (Editor’s Choice)

“It is as a writer that I admire the architecture of Remember Me Like This, the novel’s flawless storytelling. It is as the father of three sons that I vouch for the psychological authenticity of this depiction of any parent’s worst fears. Emotionally, I am with this family as they try to move ahead—embracing ‘the half-known and desperate history’ that they share. I love this novel.”—John Irving
 
“An achingly beautiful and psychologically insightful portrait of a family . . . [a] fully immersive novel in which the language is luminous and the delivery almost flawless.”The Boston Globe
 
“Riveting . . . [The novel] flows like it was plotted by Dennis Lehane but feels like it was written by Jonathan Franzen.”Esquire

“Tremendously moving . . . There’s real humanity in [Bret Anthony] Johnston’s writing, and it’s heartening to spend time with these folks as they relearn how to be a family.”—Ron Charles, The Washington Post
 
“Deeply empathetic and masterfully constructed . . . a novel that has both the feel of a great epic and the focused intensity of standing on a highwire.”Salon

“A gripping study of the complexities that follow a traumatic life event . . . The reader is transformed into a silent witness alongside the characters.”Nylon
 
“[Johnston’s] first novel is so spellbinding, so moving, that one’s only complaint is that we had to wait ten years to read it. . . . Johnston is a master at creating honest portraits of family members that could easily be your neighbor. Make no mistake about it: Bret Anthony Johnston is a writer to watch.”BookPage

“[A] strong debut . . . Johnston has a talent for drawing well-rounded characters. . . . This is a convincing and uplifting portrait of a family in crisis.”Publishers Weekly

“An admirable achievement . . . The story starts where other stories might end. . . . [Readers] will find their expectations continually defied as characters refuse to follow a formulaic plot trajectory. . . . This is ultimately an uplifting reading experience owing to the believable love and warmth of the family.”Library Journal (starred review)
 
“A sensitive and frequently suspenseful portrait of a family struggling to heal in the aftermath of great trauma.”Booklist

“In this deeply nuanced portrait of an American family, Bret Anthony Johnston fearlessly explores the truth behind a mythic happy ending. In Remember Me Like This, Johnston presents an incisive dismantling of an all-too-comforting fallacy: that in being found we are no longer lost.”—Alice Sebold
 
“You could say that this book is ripped from the headlines, but that wouldn’t be fair. Bret Anthony Johnston’s riveting novel picks up where the tabloids leave off, and takes us places even the best journalism can’t go. Remember Me Like This is a wise, moving, and troubling novel about family and identity, and a clear-eyed inventory of loss and redemption.”—Tom Perrotta
 
“Both devastating and transporting, this is the rare novel a reader lives in, so persuasive is the impact, the insight, the heat of south Texas.”—Amy Hempel
 
“This mesmerizing story of loss and redemption on Texas’s Gulf Coast will take you in and hold you and not let go until it’s done with you, leaving you wiping at your eyes with the kind of soul-gratitude that comes only after experiencing true art.”—Andre Dubus III
 
“A brilliantly rendered portrait of a family in the aftermath of trauma . . . Beautifully crafted and so suspenseful you cannot look away, this is a novel as much about what is hidden as what is revealed; the balancing act is nothing short of masterly.”—Jill McCorkle


From the Hardcover edition.
Reader's Guide|Discussion Questions

About the Book

Q&A with Elizabeth McCracken

Elizabeth McCracken: In Remember Me Like This you write beautifully about Corpus Christi, your hometown. How did you manage to evoke a place you knew so well without becoming overwhelmed with details and memories?

Bret Anthony Johnston: As a reader and writer, I’m interested in stories that can only happen in a specific place. If I can imagine a story taking place anywhere else than the place I’m writing or reading about, then something feels off. In some ways, for me, place is the story.

The only thing I knew was that the heat would be relentless, inescapable. Chekhov advised writers to make sad stories cold, and I wanted to flip that logic. I wanted the summer heat of South Texas to exact the kind of pressure on my characters that the Russian winters exacted on his. Beyond that, I waded into the story with nothing more than curiosity. I didn’t aim to render a landscape that I know well, but rather to dismiss what I know and perceive the place solely through the senses of the Campbell family.

In each subsequent draft of the novel, the setting insisted itself in a more significant way and I worked hard to empathize with the characters, to see the place as only they would. A mother who feels estranged from her family will view a barrier island differently than a boy who was kidnapped and living within forty miles of his parents. They will both view the bay, the green-gray water that would have been visible from their respective windows every day of the ordeal, through revelatory lenses. Getting the place right mattered far less to me than making it interesting. Any resemblance to the actual geography of the area is almost coincidental.

EM: The switching point of view in Remember Me Like This is so intimate with each character, while never seeming claustrophobic or narrow. Was there one character who came easier, whom you were gladder to be with?

BAJ: I knew the novel needed multiple perspectives, knew that it had to be refracted through different consciousnesses, if I had any hope of rendering the story in a way that rewarded the reader’s attention. The characters needed to have blind spots and secrets, and I wanted the reader to feel both part of the family and estranged, which is how they feel toward each other and toward Justin. What characters notice and don’t notice is endlessly interesting to me, and regardless of what’s included or neglected, I see point of view as an invitation. I wanted the reader to care for these characters, to empathize with them. I wanted them to see that the characters were facing choices where no answer was clearly right, and I wanted them to embrace the characters after they’d made a decision that was clearly wrong.

None of the characters were easy to inhabit, not even close, but the one I enjoyed and identified with the most is Cecil. That I have so much in common with a widowed grandfather who hides a pistol under the seat of his truck was news to me. But I really did cotton to him. We’re both methodical and patient to a sometimes infuriating degree, and while I was writing the novel, I came to have very real compassion for him. I wouldn’t have handled all of the trouble the way he does, but I understand his reasoning. When I was working on his chapters and scenes, I felt a sense of following around an older, braver, and more desperate version of myself. In a complicated way, I might have even looked up to him.

EM: What was the earliest inspiration, the earliest glimmer, of the book?

BAJ
: When I was much younger, living in South Texas, I volunteered to help rehabilitate a beached dolphin, exactly as Laura does in the novel. I always wanted to volunteer for one of the overnight shifts, but despite the rescue coordinator saying how difficult they were to fill, none were ever available. This really made an impression on me, and for years I wondered who was volunteering for these notoriously hard shifts. Little by little, the character crystallized in my imagination. I thought of a woman with insomnia, a woman who wanted to volunteer when no one would see her, a woman who longed to serve in private.

But I didn’t know why she couldn’t sleep, what was keeping her up, and I started thinking about a beach ball that someone had brought in for my dolphin when I was volunteering. I realized that this character that I’d been imagining for decades would be the kind of woman who’d bring in a beach ball for the dolphin. The problem was that I associate beach balls with children, and in all the years of thinking of Laura, I’d never conceived of her having children. That’s when it clicked. I realized that her son was missing—in my mind, though certainly not in hers—and it was his beach ball. It was his breath inside of it, not hers, and she was trying to save the dolphin because she thought she’d failed to save him. Suddenly, I knew I had a book. I never wanted to write a book about kidnapping or being lost, but through the writing, I realized that I was very interested in the complexities of a story about being found.

EM: When you were writing this book, did you have a clear vision of how everything would unfold, or were there moments when the characters surprised you?

BAJ: I’m a writer—and a reader—who craves surprise. I write toward it. If I know how a story will unfold, let alone how it will end, I can’t bring myself to start writing it. For me to enter a story, I have to sense the potential for discovery, for illumination, for surprise. I want stories to be smarter than I am. I want them to know more than I do, as both a reader and a writer. I want them to lead me toward revelation. I fear all of that sounds fancy and highfalutin, but practically speaking, it translates to countless hours of writing and rewriting and hundreds of pages being discarded.

But, yes, Remember Me Like This surprised me at almost every turn. I had no idea how the book would end, or what roles the characters would play in how everything unfolds. I was as surprised by the characters’ potential for violence as I was by their potential for grace and compassion. Each surprise felt like a gift to me, even when it required months of rewriting, and I hope the readers feel equally rewarded.

EM: The only character whose point of view we don’t see is Justin’s. What informed your choice to focus on the other family members?

BAJ: A few critics, bless their hearts, have very kindly suggested that I avoided Justin’s point of view (and thus the raw, firsthand descriptions of what he endured) to intensify the reading experience—the idea being that, by leaving out his perspective and the details of his abuse, I would force readers to imagine what happened to him, and what they could imagine would be far worse, far more terrifying and disturbing, than what actually happened. I don’t think there’s a shred of truth to this line of thinking. What happened to Justin is infinitely worse than most of us could ever conceive. But, like his family, the reader is trapped in the not-knowing, which is its own particular kind of menace. They aren’t allowed to ask him the questions they want to, aren’t allowed access to his thoughts and feelings, so neither are we. I wanted the reader to occupy the same space that his parents and grandfather and brother do. I aimed to initiate the reader into that community.

And, speaking of surprises, I will say that when I first started writing the book, I assumed Justin would get a POV. I thought he would be in the mix, but it soon became clear that he wasn’t ready to talk about what had happened. He wasn’t offering anything of that nature to anyone except Griff, and I didn’t want to pry. I refused to invade his privacy. He’s been through enough already.

EM: Griff and Justin are both skateboarders, and I know that you have been a serious skateboarder for over twenty years. What was it like to bring a culture you know so well onto the page?

BAJ: Extremely difficult! The skateboarding sections were shockingly hard to write for exactly that reason—because I know that culture so well. In one draft, I would have pages of unnecessary (but awesome) descriptions of skating; I would get drunk on the language and material and just throw in everything I knew, things that the reader would neither understand nor enjoy. It was indulgent and digressive. In the next draft, I’d cut the sections down to the bone, so that even if the reader didn’t have this lifelong history as a skater, the scenes would still make sense. Finding the balance was one of the biggest chores of the book. And yet I always knew that skating would play a part in the boys’ lives. Depending on where you are in the book, skateboarding serves as an escape hatch or a source of confusion, a place to take shelter or a source of pain. It’s also, of course, a solitary endeavor. There are no teams in the typical sense, so you’re fundamentally on your own when you’re learning tricks or choosing whether to get back on your board after a hard fall. To some degree, there’s still a stigma attached to being a skater, too. You are, especially in places like Southport, still viewed as an outcast or misfit, someone who doesn’t fit into normal society. All of these things resonated with me in light of what the family has survived. A number of really savvy readers have pointed out that the book pays a fair amount of attention to the coping at the top of the Teepee Motel pool. In reality, pool coping is the row of cement blocks that form the lip around the uppermost edge of the bowl; it’s what you hold on to as you pull yourself out of the pool after swimming. But in the book, according to certain readers, the word “coping” takes on a more nuanced definition. It’s a word I’ve heard all my life as a skater—coping, coping, coping—but the novel was almost done before I started hearing that piece of language as it would apply to Griff and Justin and their family. Who knew? Not me. I couldn’t have planned something like that. I wouldn’t want to. I’d rather wait for the book to surprise me, to change the way I view—and hear—the life around me.

EM: What surprised you most about the book, both writing and afterward?

BAJ: There were a lot surprises while I was writing Remember Me Like This. The characters surprised me often, which was exhilarating and comforting, and the ending of the novel was a huge surprise. I absolutely thought the book would end differently. I’d been writing toward a different conclusion, and when the book went in another (and altogether better) direction, I felt that rare and beautiful rush of surprise that comes when you think you’ve been lost but realize you’ve been on the right path all along.

Maybe the biggest surprise, though, has come from the reaction of the booksellers, reviewers, and early readers. People have been so incredibly supportive and, well, interested in the book. I’ve always been enormously grateful to the people who’ve read my work, but I would never risk the dream of such an enthusiastic response for the novel. I’m always surprised to have any readership at all, so to have so many people, so early, support the book in this way feels outlandish. For all the years that I was working on the book, my only goal was to write the book that I’d want to read. That so many others seem to want read the same book isn’t just surprising, it’s humbling. It’s the kind of response that makes you feel less alone in the world, and I’m not sure we can ask our books—the ones we write and the ones we read—for anything more.

Discussion Guides

1. Remember Me Like This is rendered from the perspectives of various characters, but never Justin’s. Why do you think Johnston decided not to include his point of view? What do the alternating perspectives do for the story?

2. The novel opens with a body floating facedown in the ship channel, then flashes back and shows the events that led up to the discovery. Who did you think was in the water at first and why? Did your feelings change throughout the book?

3. The novel opens with a body floating facedown in the ship channel, then flashes back and shows the events that led up to the discovery. Who did you think was in the water at first and why? Did your feelings change throughout the book?

4. The novel takes place during a humid summer in South Texas, and Johnston asks the reader to pay a lot of attention to the heat and weather. How does this setting relate to the themes of the book?

5. Early in the novel, the reader learns that Cecil believes love can be shown through not disclosing what you know. Do you agree with him? What role do secrets play in the book?

6. Are Eric and Laura good parents? In what ways do their actions support or undermine each other’s? What would you have done differently in their shoes?

7. Each of the Campbells seeks different kinds of shelter in the book: Eric is involved in an extramarital affair; Laura spends much of her time volunteering at Marine Lab; Griffin devotes most of his energy to skateboarding and Fiona; and Cecil retreats deeper into the grooves of his life. What do these shelters offer the characters? What do the shelters reveal about them? Do the shelters hold up?

8. Most of the novel takes place in Southport, a small coastal town with a tightly knit community. How does that sense of closeness and isolation play into the story? How does the realization that, geographically, Justin was never that far away affect the Campbells?

9. Which character do you identify with the most and why?

10. In your own family, do you think you’re more like Eric or more like Laura?

11. Had Cecil’s plan worked, what do you think he would have done with Buford? Did you believe the story he tells Eric about taking Buford into Mexico? Did he ever intend to include Eric in the plan? Why does he decide against including him?

12. Do you think Buford’s father is being honest with Cecil about just wanting one last day on the water with his family? Why or why not?

13. The novel ends with Eric imagining what might have happened to Buford. What do you think happened to Buford? Do you think Laura had anything to do with it?

14. Where do you imagine each of the Campbells in a year? In five years? In ten?


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