Alice Mattison takes two almost separate stories and intertwines them to make one in Nothing Is Quite Forgotten in Brooklyn, moving back and forth between the years of 1989 and 2003, yet the reader will find it surprisingly easy to follow. There is most definitely a link, a major one, holding the stories together.
First we find Constance (Con) Tepper in 1989 arriving from Philadelphia at her motherís apartment in Brooklyn. Con is there to watch the place and especially her motherís cat while her mother, Gert, goes to visit old friend Marlene Silverman in Rochester. Con settles in and, as always, wonders about the relationship between Gert and Marlene Silverman that has gone on every since Con, now 45, can remember. In fact, the friendship of Marlene and Gert, now 70, goes all the way back to World War II. Con learns this and more as she reads through old letters belonging to her mother that were written mainly by Marlene. Marlene even talked Gert into making an investment in an illegal business run by Marleneís then boyfriend, Lou, who was a mobster. This seems so unlike the mother Con knows.
This is all rather unsettling to Con, but not as much as what happens the first night in the apartment and all that follows. When Con finds the apartment has been entered that night, her purse with all her money and keys in it stolen, she panics. She wants to get the lock fixed but has no money to pay and certainly canít walk away leaving the apartment unlocked. Her only help is the phone, and she begins to call friends and family for help. By the end of that horrendous week, she encounters several disconcerting revelations about everything from her marriage to her job, even her family history, discoveries that change Conís life forever.
Marlene, quick-tempered and domineering, calls over and over again to get Con to consent to let her have the power of attorney for Gert. Marlene claims that Gert is starting to experience dementia and losing all signs of common sense. Then, one night, Marlene calls to tell Con that Gert has died in her sleep. In shock, Con doesnít stop to question the circumstances surrounding her motherís death - like why didnít Marlene call 911? Con also doesnít immediately wonder about Marlene being handy with a euthanasia needle since she is an assistant to a vet, or why she keeps insisting that Con give her all of Gertís financial records. The final tip should have been when Marlene is named executor of Gertís will instead of Gertís daughter.
The second story intertwining story occurs 14 years later. We find Con living in the apartment in Brooklyn, divorced from her husband, Jerry, although they somewhat remain friends. Con has gone from high-powered corporation lawyer to one who works for non-profit. Here in 2003, Con is expecting her friend Peggy; her daughter, Joanna; Marlene; and Jerry, all on one weekend - not something she looks forward to. Jerry is there to research an abandoned Brooklyn train project, bringing into the story the mystery of the now-lost elevated trains built to save time back in the 1920s. Jerry and Con together explore the vestiges of an unfinished elevated train line that they discover.
With Con apprehensive about everyone coming to visit at the same time, she begins to recall and rethink her motherís death. She had forgotten them, but Joanna never has. She has long thought that Marlene did more than just take some money from Gert, and she decides to find out more. The reconstruction of the puzzle of Gertís death and the part Marlene played in it makes for a mysterious twist to this second story within a story. The return of the stolen purse seems to bring everything to a head, and all of these mysteries comes together at the end to answer some long-overdue questions.