The Weight of Memory

Reviewed by:

Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.


The Weight of Memory


Shawn Smucker



Publication Date:

July 2021




368 pages


Paul Elias has just gotten the diagnosis he never wanted. He has at best 3 months to settle his affairs and find a new guardian for his granddaughter, Pearl. After some consideration, Paul decides to take Pearl to his hometown, a little town called Nysa forgotten by the world. It was the town where he made friends he never expected to have, where he met his wife Mary, and the place he left with his son John 30 years ago, after Mary’s fatal accident. Perhaps there he’ll find somebody there to care for his granddaughter. When they reach Nysa, it becomes clear that all is not what it seems. The town is not as Paul remembered. Old friends may not be what they seem. Above all that, something more concerning is happening: Pearl keeps mentioning a woman in with white hair that she sees, who clearly isn’t there. A woman who wants Pearl to do something.

Much like Smucker’s book Light from Distant Stars, this story has a heavy sense that the past is bearing down on the present. Most of the book cuts back and forth between two sets of events. There is what happened to Paul in high school: life in a rural town where “something not right” creeps in. Then there is the present story: Paul returning to where it all started and facing what’s going on in. If the present story is set in the 2020s, then the past story happens in the 1990s, but the details (rural Midwest, slow reveal of paranormal threats) make it feel like the 1980s setting of many Stephen King novels. As Smucker unveils the strange elements, it becomes clear that while he may be using images from Stephen King’s repertoire, this isn’t a horror novel. Its otherworldly elements are not vampires, ghosts, Lovecraftian gods or dark psychic phenomena. Instead, the elements are magic, a vaguely defined kind combining images from C.S. Lewis’ Narnia (doors in strange places, places that only children can go) with hints of the Grimm Brothers (ambiguous guides who may lead you to death or rebirth). Multiple times the characters mention George MacDonald, a fantasy writer who deeply influenced Lewis and could write very melancholy, paradoxical fairytales.

However, unlike MacDonald or Lewis, here the magic is deliberately underexplained. Much like Smucker’s book These Nameless Things, characters’ actions show what is happening, bits of dialogue hint at the truth, but no Gandalf figure comes to explain everything. Like the creatures in Dave McKean’s film Luna, magic things flit in and out of the plot, almost hallucinatory but affecting things too much to be illusions. In that respect, Weight of Memory is less like conventional fantasy, more like magical realism (although, since scholars debate whether magical realist characters notice the magic, it may not fit that label).

Initially, this minimal explanation can be frustrating. However, it provides a way to talk about heavy themes without being too didactic. Ted Dekker’s Rise of the Mystics had a similar mix of suspense and fantasy, and characters kept mentioning that “true religion is relationship, not rules,” making Dekker’s point rather obvious. Smucker mixes suspense and fantasy, and talks about some heavy subjects (grieving, loss, addiction) without giving heavy-handed lectures. The deliberate underexplaining also lets Smucker combine suspense and fantasy (which don’t always fit together) into a cohesive story.

Another great book by someone who’s quickly establishing themselves as a premier Christian fantasist.


Rating (1 to 5 stars)

5 stars

Suggested Audience

Readers looking for challenging fantasy or magical realist novels, with an emphasis on suspense and nostalgia.

Christian Impact

There are references to church, primarily the fact that most of the characters don’t come from religious homes but at times feel fascinated by it. On a broader level, the whole story is concerned with looking back, considering past mistakes or struggles, and finding the way forward in confession and repentance. The book also gives an interesting take on the problem of evil, contemplating how in God’s hands, even death can be used for good.


Readers who enjoy this work may enjoy Smucker’s other novels. To read ECLA’s reviews of some of those books, go to:

The Weight of Memory

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