The Memory Thief

The Memory Thief

by Emily Colin


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In Emily Colin’s exquisite debut novel, perfect for the fans of Kristin Hannah, one man’s vow to his wife sparks a remarkable journey that tests the pull of memory and reaffirms the bonds of love.
Before Madeleine Kimble’s mountaineer husband, Aidan, climbs Mount McKinley’s south face, he makes her a solemn vow: I will come back to you. But late one night, Maddie gets the devastating news that Aidan has died in an avalanche, leaving her to care for their son—a small boy with a very big secret. The call comes from J.C., Aidan’s best friend and fellow climber, whose grief is seasoned with survivor’s guilt . . . and something more. J.C. has loved Maddie for years, but he never wanted his chance with her to come at so terrible a cost.
Across the country, Nicholas Sullivan wakes from a motorcycle crash with his memory wiped clean. Yet his dreams are haunted by visions of a mysterious woman and a young boy, neither of whom he has ever met. Convinced that these strangers hold the answers he seeks, Nicholas leaves everything behind to find them. What he discovers will require a leap of faith that will change all of their lives forever.
“Dazzlingly original and as haunting as a dream, Emily Colin’s mesmerizing debut explores the way memory, love, and great loss bind our lives together in ways we might never expect. From its audacious opening to its knockout last pages, I was enthralled.”—Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You

“In The Memory Thief, love itself is a character, able to transcend all natural boundaries to find its way home, or learn to let go. Emily Colin writes about loss with heartbreaking conviction, and yet there is a knowing sweetness at the core of this richly emotional tale. Here is a lovely, self-assured debut from a writer to watch.”—Joshilyn Jackson, New York Times bestselling author of A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345530394
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/21/2012
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 594,083
Product dimensions: 5.34(w) x 7.82(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Emily Colin's first novel, The Memory Thief, was a New York Times bestseller and a Target Emerging Authors Pick. She is the former associate director of DREAMS of Wilmington, a nonprofit dedicated to serving youth in need through the arts. Originally from Brooklyn, she lives in Wilmington, North Carolina, with her family.

Kirby Heyborne is an accomplished actor, musician, and comedian who has received a number of AudioFile Earphones Awards for his audiobook narrations. He has had starring roles in over a dozen features and many short films. Kirby is also a cofounder and director of the Los Angeles-based improv comedy group The Society.

Nelson Hobbs lives on the sand with a classical guitar in one hand and a glass of sangria in the other. His villa on the beach is lined wall-to-wall with a coveted library of romantic classics. His voice resonates in this paradise which has led to the natural transition to audiobook narrator.

Carly Robins is an actress and voice-over artist. She can be heard on commercials, video games, and promos. Carly comes to narration with a passion for performance along with the capability to span several genres, from romance to children's literature and thrillers.

Read an Excerpt



Six Years Later . . .

On the surface, there’s no reason for me to be concerned—­at least, no more than usual. All Aidan says is “I think I’m going to try the South Face of McKinley again.”

We’re sitting at the kitchen table, me with a cup of coffee, him with a bottle of Gatorade. Gabriel is in his room down the hall, building something with his Legos. He’d gotten a big box of them for his fourth birthday, a mixed lot that J.C. scored on eBay. That was over six months ago, but they can still absorb his attention for hours.

Sunlight plays on the wood table, and Aidan runs one finger through it, tracing a rainbow of colors. It’s an ordinary day, but still I feel a frisson of fear ripple down my spine. “Isn’t that the route you tried last year? When you had to turn back?”

“Yeah, we were trying to do a new variation of the Cassin Ridge, and the weather turned on us. It’s been bugging me ever since.” There’s a pad of paper on the table, and he begins doodling something on it as he speaks—­a face, it looks like.

“The one that’s got that place called the Valley of Death?”

He looks up at me, his blond hair falling into his eyes. He needs a haircut, for sure. “That’s the one. What’s got into you, Maddie?”

“I don’t think you should go.” I’ve never said this to him before, and his eyes widen with surprise before they narrow in puzzlement.

“What are you talking about? Why not?”

“I have a bad feeling about this one. I don’t know why, but I do.”

“Don’t be silly. It’s an awesome climb. That was just freaky last year, about the weather. It shouldn’t happen again. We got as far as the bergschrund with no problem—­what?” he says, in response to the exasperated face I’m making over the rim of my coffee cup.

“You know I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I say. “English, please.”

He rolls his eyes at me. “A bergschrund is a big crevasse near the head of a glacier. German for ‘mountain crevice,’ if you really want to know.”

“I don’t need the etymology, Aidan. Just the significance.”

“ ’Schrunds can be a real pain in the ass,” he says, crossing his arms over his chest. “In the winter, they’re not such a big deal to traverse. In the summer, you’ve got snowmelt, so they’re these big gaping holes.”

“I just know there’s a point in here somewhere.”

“My point is, what happened last year wasn’t a technical issue. We got across the ’schrund just fine. It was after that that the crappy weather set in.” He unfolds himself and goes back to drawing.

My stomach twists. “I wish you wouldn’t go. Can’t you do something else? Go to Chile, or Spain, or, I don’t know, China. Anywhere else.”

“Relax, honey. You’re getting all worked up over nothing.”

“I’m not,” I say, and even as the words leave my mouth I know that it’s the truth. “I’m telling you, Aidan, I have a bad feeling about this.”

“What, are you psychic now?” His tone is light, but I can tell that irritation lurks beneath.

“I’ve never asked you not to do something. I’m asking you now.”

When he lifts his head this time, his mouth is set in a straight, obstinate line. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

I look down at my coffee, my stomach churning. “I’m not,” I say again, my voice as stubborn as his.

“Yeah,” he says. “You are.” And he gets up from the table, spinning the drawing around to face me. Seen from one angle, there is his face. I look again, and there’s the mountain, rising snow-­covered against a cloudless sky. I stare at the picture he’s drawn, watching the image shift from one form to the next. “Don’t go,” I say in a whisper, but it is too late; the front door slams behind him, and I hear the Jeep’s engine rev as he peels out of the driveway.

We fight about the Mount McKinley trip for two months, a record. I argue with him, I yell, I plead. At night I wake from dreams where Aidan goes tumbling off the mountain, crashing to the bottom of a valley and landing, lifeless, in a heap. I dream that he is crushed by falling rock, that his Cessna goes down before he even reaches the glacier, that he steps on a weak snow bridge and goes hurtling into the depths of a crevasse. Then I wake up, my heart pounding in triple time, and look over at Aidan sleeping beside me, peaceful and still. Don’t go, I say into the darkness of our room. Don’t leave me.

Where this premonition of disaster has come from, I can’t say, but it sticks. Aidan tries everything he can think of to make me change my mind, to “see sense,” as he puts it. He listens to all of my doomsday scenarios and then, one by one, tells me why they’re nothing to worry about. He teases me that we’ve changed places, that usually he’s the irrational one and I’m the one calming him down. He makes jokes (“Denali? De nada, baby”), he makes J.C. come and talk to me. He gives me books about successful ascents of the mountain, emails me websites. When none of this does any good, he screams and threatens and throws things. He begs. And finally he retreats into a stony, stubborn silence, from which he emerges only to say, “I’m going and that’s the end of it.”

The night before he leaves in May, I lie in bed waiting for him to join me, and when he doesn’t, I get up to look for him. He’s sitting in the living room, in the dark. I can make out the dim shape of a glass on the coffee table in front of him, next to his lighter and a pack of American Spirits. He smells like whisky.

I sit down on the couch next to him. “Hey.”

“Maddie,” he says, and his voice is rough. He is crying, I realize with some horror. “What’s happening to us?” he says. His voice breaks on the last word.

I move closer, wrap my arms around him. He is shaking, like he was six years ago when he came to tell me that he loved me, that Jim Ellis had died on the Eiger Nordwand and he blamed himself. “I can’t lose you,” he says. “I can’t. I don’t know what I would do. Tell me I’m not losing you, baby. Please.”

Now I am crying, too. My tears mingle with his as we hold each other. “You could never lose me,” I say. “I’m the one who’s going to lose you. I know it, Aidan. I know I am.”

He presses his face against mine. “I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be back, honey. You’ll see. I’ll be back and everything will be fine.”

“You can’t know that. Look at what happened to Jim.”

“To Ellis?” he says, sounding puzzled. “What’s McKinley got to do with that? The Nordwand was a freaky set of circumstances, a whole bunch of bad stuff piling up at once. Ellis was sick. That cornice was shit. And then J.C. got knocked out. You know all this.”

I don’t know why I’ve got the Eiger expedition on my mind. Maybe it’s the feel of Aidan’s body trembling, the wetness of his tears. I don’t think I’ve seen him cry since that day, not even when Gabriel was born, and it unsettles me. “All three of you could have died in the crevasse on that stupid mountain, not just him,” I say, and shiver.

“But we didn’t,” he says, pulling away and wiping his eyes. I hear the familiar stubbornness line his voice. “I lost Ellis, true. I haven’t forgiven myself for that. But I did the best I could. I built an anchor. I got us out of there. And I came back to you.” He runs his hand through his hair. “It was a horrible thing, Maddie. But it also made me realize how I feel about you, after that stupidity with Kate. Those extremes—­they’re part of why I love what I do. I guess it’s my version of a spiritual experience.”

I roll my eyes, borrowing his bad habit. He sighs.

“Look, honey, there’s a lot of guys who would be happy working a nine-­to-­five, or whose church is inside four walls rather than halfway up a cliff. But you didn’t marry one of those guys. You married me.”

“I know that,” I say in a small voice.

“Are you sorry?” he says, turning his face to me. His cheeks are streaked with tears. He looks miserable, which is so uncharacteristic that it makes me start crying again.

“What kind of question is that?” I say, blinking my eyes so I can see him clearly.

“A real one,” he says. “Answer it, please.”

“No,” I say without hesitation. “Of course I’m not. I love you for who you are. There’s no one else I’d want to be with.”

Relief flashes across his face. He stretches his arms up to the ceiling, brings one down around my shoulders. “Okay, then,” he says, like everything is settled.

“But, Aidan, what if something like that happens again and you’re not so lucky?”

His arm is still around my shoulders, and I can feel the tension seep back into it. He drums his fingers on the back of the couch. “If it does, then it does. That’s why we get emergency training, so that we’ll know how to handle tough situations. Skill and experience count for a lot up there. And I just happen to have a considerable amount of both. As do Roma and J.C. and Jesse.” He wiggles his eyebrows at me, runs his free hand along my thigh.

I know he’s trying to make light of this, to make me smile, but it doesn’t work this time. “You can’t control the weather,” I say. “You can’t tell the mountain what to do.”

Aidan gives up on being charming and folds his arms over his chest. “Jesus, Maddie. Let it go, would you please? I’m getting on a plane tomorrow morning. I don’t want to leave like this.”

“So don’t leave,” I say.

“You know I have to,” he says. “Don’t make it worse.”

I shake my head, and he takes my face between his hands and holds me still. “Have faith. You remember when I told you that, the first time?”

Customer Reviews

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The Memory Thief 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 46 reviews.
ScoutPF More than 1 year ago
This first novel of Emily Colin caught my attention when I read a review in the Star-News of Wilmington, North Carolina. She is a local author, and based part of the book here. While I was reading this story, I jotted down words that ran through my head when I would take a break from reading. They were: intriguing, addicting and heartbreaking. This novel stretches your imagination to impossible limits. You can feel the bite of the ice and snow, and exhilaration of being at the peak of an impossible climb. Then there is the despair of a man who made a promise to the ones he loves, that he knows he can’t keep. This story is told from the perspective of three people, Madeline, Aidan, and Nicholas. We learn in the first chapter that Aidan is killed in an avalanche, what more is there to say? There is so much more. It is impossible for me to go into details of this work, without giving spoilers. I can only tell you it is a journey of friendship, enlightenment, and undying love. It made me laugh, and made me cry, and sigh with contentment when I was finished. I would recommend this novel to people who like to read love stories, with a leap of faith.
MichBN More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this book. Great story, very well written, and I couldn't put it down. Can't wait for her next books. 
MistySkye4333 More than 1 year ago
Don't ever rate a book five stars,but really enjoyed this one! An exceptional read that keeps you on the edge of your seat, couldn't put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved the book. Could not put it down. Will read this author's next book. Loved the characters. A must read!!!
Weewop More than 1 year ago
I could not put this down I loved it. It was different from my normal reads however fell in love. I hope she writes another book soon I can't wait to read more by her
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
i couldn't put this one down. a great read ... especially if you're in need of encouragement to follow your passions and take emotional risks.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book and asked my friends to read it also. Was a fast paced read with a different story line. Looking forward to the next book by this author. Great debut book. Read it!
JacksonvilleReader More than 1 year ago
Great first book and I look forward to more by Colin.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was looking for a book that was " something different" Sometimes you need to switch things up a little bit...I really enjoyed this book. Highly recommend!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful novel. I finished it in 2 days. This a great book to curl up on the couch with on a weekend. You are swept away with the characters, their personalities are vivid and alive. Extremely well written. A must read! This is the first novel by the author. I am hoping she is working on another soon.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great, great book! Original story of love and loss that leaves you feeling sad, hopeful, and at peace. Have a box of Kleenex handy.
dancinganne More than 1 year ago
Emily Colin's debut novel is a great read. If you like love stories with a super natural twist then this novel will keep you turning pages until the wee hours of the morning. A great book to dive in to as a treat for summers ending. I can't wait to see what she comes up with next!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Awesome read, couldn't put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read, it was hard to put down. It renewed my faith in believing in those who pass from this life are still with us even when their body is gone.
JMTJTC More than 1 year ago
“I fall asleep again thinking about what it feels like to have everything you want, only to lose it…and to know what you want, but not have it.” Genre: Romance/Paranormal. Number of Pages: 432. Perspective: Third Alternating (Three Different Perspectives). Location: United States. The Memory Thief is a story about a man who dies in a tragic mountain climbing expedition. He left behind his best friend, wife, and son…at least in the physical sense. His spirit lingers to try to get a message back to his family. The first few chapters of this book had me hooked! It was an interesting premise and started off in the middle of the action. But then it turned stale. The middle felt redundant and slow. It was still an interesting idea, but so much of the excitement and intrigue quickly faded away. I liked the supernatural element of this story, but again, the idea fell flat. The majority of the book was spent on the wife’s new relationship after his death. I think that was important to the story, but this whole idea could have been expanded on a lot more. The book ended up being more of a romance story with some adventure subplots, rather than being a mystery/adventure, which is the vibe I got initially. I liked how there were three different perspectives. I almost could have gone for four in this particular book, which I have never said about a book. Usually lots of different perspectives make a book more confusing, but in this case, I think it would have added a little bit of clarity (especially since I had the wrong idea about one of the main characters from the beginning, probably because I didn’t know if I could trust what he was telling people. Having his perspective would have cleared that up quickly). To read the rest of my review, go here:
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a very sweet book, and it came at a good time in my life. I recently lost 2 very special people in my life, within 3 weeks of one another. I have felt their presence, so this really touched me .
nbaker1234 More than 1 year ago
Sometimes I find it ironic how we get drawn to a certain genre of storylines without a conscious effort to do so. For some unknown reason I have recently read two books that have been intertwined between the real world and the spiritual world. The first was A Sudden Light (Garth Stein) and now The Memory Thief (Emily Colin). Both have been very enjoyable stories but from total opposite spectrums. The Memory Thief is told from the perspective of three different people: Madeleine (mother, wife, freelance writer and now widow); Aiden (husband, father, mountain climber, dare-devil, now deceased); and Nicholas (single, not happy but not unhappy either, uneventful lifestyle and motorcycle accident survivor with no memory). The author does a beautiful job of pulling you into each of their stories and as you bob and weave through their lives you almost become one with their passion and their compassion (and trust me there is a difference). Let’s pretend for a moment that perhaps it IS possible for people to reach out to us after their death. What would you want them to tell you? What would you want to tell them? Would you be receptive and able to open your heart AND your mind to hear or feel their presence? Is it wise for them to linger here after death? Is it practical for us to WANT them to remain? Now take the word “pretend” out of the equation and you have the floorplan for The Memory Thief. I loved the depth of all the characters, even the innocence of the young child, Gabe. Oh, if we could all only continue to see life through the eyes of child. If we could all see the positive side of life and not be limited by what we think is not possible or achievable. The amount of happiness we receive in life is sometimes commensurate with the amount of effort we put in to finding it. The Memory Thief never really stole memories – it merely brought light and clarity to those who were willing to receive it.
jessrobs More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am yet another person who very seldom takes the time to write a review, but I absolutely loved this book. The plot was so interesting to me, I could not put it down. Great job Ms. Colin, please keep writing!
MaggieSueMP More than 1 year ago
Great imaginative story. Loved it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved this book...a bit of a beautiful ghost story that I think most of us would wish to experience someday.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading it and will miss the characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Must read , I couldn't put it down