What makes a being “human?”

Author Bethany Morrow discusses issues of humanity with producer Paul Larson, as they talk about her book MEM, a work of speculative fiction. It is set in the art deco world of Montreal in the 1920s, but a different version of the ’20s, where memories sometimes get housed in specially created living beings, when those who lived through the memories wish to forget them. MEM is the first published book for the author. A California native, Bethany C. Morrow spent six years living in Montreal, Quebec. Her speculative literary fiction uses a focus on character and language to engage with, comment on and investigate worlds not unlike our own. MEM is her debut novel. She currently resides in upstate New York.

Set in the glittering art deco world of a century ago, MEM makes one slight alteration to history: a scientist in Montreal discovers a method allowing people to have their memories extracted from their minds, whole and complete. The MEMs exist as mirror-images of their source — zombie-like creatures destined to experience that singular memory over and over, until they expire in the cavernous Vault where they are kept. And then there is Dolores Extract #1, the first MEM capable of creating her own memories. An ageless beauty shrouded in mystery, she is allowed to live on her own, and create her own existence, until one day she is summoned back to the Vault.

What happens next is a gorgeously rendered, heart-breaking novel in the vein of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. Debut novelist Bethany Morrow has created an allegory for our own time, exploring profound questions of ownership, and how they relate to identity, memory and history, all in the shadows of Montreal’s now forgotten slave trade.

“Spotlight” is made possible, in part, by the Glenn and Carol Pearsall Adirondack Foundation, dedicated to improving the quality of life for year-round residents of the Adirondack Park. pearsallfoundation.org

“Spotlight” is also supported by Hill & Hollow Music. hillandhollowmusic.org

This story was produced during our celebration of the Great American Read with support from the following: