In literature of the last century, being a great author meant remembering everything—think of Proust, Joyce, Woolf, Borges, and even Kerouac. But lately it seems that the idea of forgetting has come into vogue, with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and the paranoiac novels of Philip K. Dick, where memory is malleable and delusive. Sci-fi and mystery novels were always rife with forgetting: the android with a fake past; the hospitalized amnesiac who must find himself before bad men do; the psychopath who tricks himself and the reader into believing he’s not a killer.
In Toyko Doesn’t Love Us Anymore, Ray Loriga, like Charlie Kaufman in Eternal Sunshine, riffs on these old conceits in order to salvage something humane, if disorienting and brutal. The plots and even the tone of these two works are quite similar. Both involve the idea of a memory-erasing business, although Kaufman takes the perspective of the patient, and Loriga that of the traveling salesman peddling oblivion in the near-futuristic purgatory of a global drug culture—hotels, swimming pools, cocaine nights, bi-curious sex, and traffic jams—stretching from Vegas to Vietnam. Loriga deals in the classic Burroughs-ian tropes of the Company and the Agent, who is dangerously addicted to the substance he is selling, apparently to suppress the details of a long-lost love affair.
Loriga’s future is low-rent and shabby, a world where the brain has been atomized according to the response of its constituent parts to various chemicals, with the narrator burning through so many drugs that one loses track becomes a kind of globetrotting confessor for a host of clients eager to give up part of their minds in exchange for relief from horrible memories. Part of the brilliance and distress of reading this novel lies in the fact that the product has its appeal.
As the book unfolds, the narrator’s mind unravels. “There’s no longer anything that chemical can’t hide nor anything that chemical isn’t capable of bringing back again,” he says, as if the brain were merely a cable channel. And with the advent of “reincarnation programs,” your dead relations can live on in your home with a realistic mixture of responses and emotions. Personality has become pixilated, capable of being chopped up, whole sections deleted. By eradicating one memory and clinging to another, the phantasm of absolute freedom, the ability to choose a self, has been achieved by corporate science.
It is, of course, a nightmare. The narrator refers to everyone as a “friend” (just in case), and as his brain buckles, he no longer remembers people he has just met, or even the name of Bugs Bunny. “You’ve bombarded yourself with everything possible,” a doctor explains. The result is a head like “a net with a hole as big as a German bus.”
Thankfully, Loriga doesn’t turn this into a novel of intrigue in which the narrator is drawn into a complicated plot involving a secret key stashed away in his mind. But unlike most of the flashier cult writers with whom he is usually compared, Loriga is out for blood—he demands sadness and loss. “What have I forgotten?” the narrator asks. “All my prayers, my parents’ names… promises, addresses, threats, streets, beaches, ports, whole cities…”The question itself, like the memory of having forgotten something important without knowing quite what, is a ghostly trail that can’t be destroyed. You are what you remember.