Forget I Told You This

A Novel

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Pub Date 01 Sep 2023 | Archive Date 31 Aug 2023

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Winner of the Barbara DiBernard Prize in Fiction

Amy Black, a queer single mother and an aspiring artist in love with calligraphy, dreams of a coveted artist’s residency at the world’s largest social media company, Q. One ink-black October night, when the power is out in the hills of Oakland, California, a stranger asks Amy to transcribe a love letter for him. When the stranger suddenly disappears, Amy’s search for the letter’s recipient leads her straight to Q and the most beautiful illuminated manuscript she has ever seen, the Codex Argentus, hidden away in Q’s Library of Books That Don’t Exist—and to a group of data privacy vigilantes who want her to burn Q to the ground.

Amy’s curiosity becomes her salvation, as she’s drawn closer and closer to the secret societies and crackpot philosophers that haunt the city’s abandoned warehouses and defunct train depots. All of it leads to an opportunity of a lifetime: an artist’s residency deep in the holographic halls of Q headquarters. It’s a dream come true—so long as she follows Q’s rules.

Winner of the Barbara DiBernard Prize in Fiction

Amy Black, a queer single mother and an aspiring artist in love with calligraphy, dreams of a coveted artist’s residency at the world’s largest social...

A Note From the Publisher

Zero Street Fiction series

Zero Street Fiction series

Advance Praise

Forget I Told You This sets our high-tech world of phones and apps vibrating against the beauty and history of pen and ink. Twisty and textured, rich and hyperreal, Hilary Zaid’s world is dense with mysterious invitations. In fact, her novel itself is exactly such an invitation—and I’m very glad I said ‘yes.’”—Robin Sloan, author of Sourdough and the New York Times bestseller Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

“Hilary Zaid has written a gorgeous delight, lush with things not often seen—a sexy midlife heroine, handmade magic, and love letters both as plot and to a certain time and place in San Francisco. I loved every word.”—Claire McMillan, author of Alchemy of a Blackbird

“Deftly weaving together elements of a futuristic thriller, a family drama, and an ode to illuminated manuscripts, Forget I Told You This follows lonely scribe Amy Black on her quest to discover the mystery behind tech giant Q, a local resistance group seeking her help, and ultimately, herself. The prose is gorgeous, the plot tense, and Amy is a wonderfully flawed and sympathetic character whose intense battle between her artistic ambition, the demands of her family, and her own need for love form the beating heart of this gripping and imaginative novel.”—Erin Swan, author of Walked the Vanished Earth

Forget I Told You This, Hilary Zaid’s portrait of the artist as a face-blind queer scrivener obsessed with ancient texts takes us to the back alleys of Oakland and the secrets rooms of a social media giant that is god-like in its omniscience and omnipotence—a world very much like the present. In this literary thriller made up of shifting identities and realities, where nothing and nobody is as they seem, one thing is a constant: the penetrating insight and elegance of Zaid’s prose.”—Lori Ostlund, author of After the Parade

Forget I Told You This sets our high-tech world of phones and apps vibrating against the beauty and history of pen and ink. Twisty and textured, rich and hyperreal, Hilary Zaid’s world is dense with...

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Featured Reviews

Thank you to University of Nebraska Press for sharing this title~

Forget I Told You This follows queer middle-aged mother, calligraphy artist, & letter-writer Amy Black as she finds herself suddenly pulled into the crossfire between the future the world’s leading social media company, Q, is building & the past an underground group of artists seek to preserve; between spotlight & anonymity; between her ambition and her conscience.

This book dances between the lines of genre, with nods to both dark academia and dystopian speculation, in a writing style that shifted between poetry and prose. At certain times, this is the book’s strength; other times, it was its challenge. There were moments when the flowery language, detailed descriptions and hyper-realistic, almost fever-dream like atmosphere of the book really landed. There were sections and lines I read over and over again and thought, “wow, that was some good writing.” And, transparently, there were times when I thought “can we stop interrupting action to muse about xyz”. It felt a bit like Zaid was too ambitious with this story; if the author had chosen to take out a few of the threads & really hone in on the best ones, I would have rated this book higher.

However, I solidly enjoyed this book. I love a middle-aged woman MC, particularly a queer one. And I am biased to love Bay Area stories as a resident and I felt like Zaid expertly captured the dichotomy and tension between artists/activists/anarchists and big tech who cohabitate the Bay Area— and how an average person must find their within that tension in order to survive.

All in all, I did enjoy this book and would recommend it as a Fall read!

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Excellently written. Love the juxtaposition of tactile pen and paper versus digital social media. A lovely and unique cat and mouse undercover reporter style thriller that to me is oddly reminiscent of Erin Brochovich.

I adore that the author is able to paint a word picture so vibrantly. From the very beginning, "the kind of love that could dye your whole world midnight blue," and deep in the story, "a small glass bottle shimmering with liquid the color of blood... bloodred wax dripped over the cap, a square label, smaller than a postage stamp, white on black." And then, finally, "I slid the letter between the pages of my recovered portfolio, just another leaf hidden in plain sight among the leaves."

The prose of this book reads so much like poetry, and reminds me of Babel in its epic storytelling style.

Don't miss the author's acknowledgements at the end, which begins, "This is a work of fiction many of whose marvelous and terrifying elements are real." The book is truly a work of art.

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Amy, a calligrapher, finds herself drawn into a shady world after writing s love letter for a mysterious man. When he disappears, she is curious what has happened. As she investigates, she gets drawn unto a bugger plot. I thought this was going to be more mystery whereas it was a lot more.conspiracy. I think if you know that going in, you will enjoy it more.

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Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing a free ebook copy of this work. This review is my honest opinion.

In the novel FORGET I TOLD YOU THIS, author Hilary Zaid created a wonderful sense of tension with the clash between paper and digital, extending the concept into not only a statement of identity for some people, but ultimately an intriguing web of mystery as well. I especially enjoyed the author’s descriptions as the story unfolded.

I highly recommend this work for fans of books that make you think.

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My response to Forget I Told You This was uneven. As I began reading, I was excited by the complexity of topics the book was taking on. Near the middle, I simply felt overwhelmed by too many conspiracy theories. Yes, it's a conspiracy theory novel, but the concatination of conspiracies pushed things beyond the point of my ability to willingly suspend disbelief. As I finished reading, I found I was enjoying myself again again. The writer tied up lose ends that had been bothering me and helped me to better understand what had been motivating the central character all along.

If I had to describe this book in terms of other books, I'd call it a cross between Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 and Dan Brown's Angels and Demons, with perhaps a bit of Fraya Marske's A Marvellous Light.

What I liked—
• quick pacing
• a lesbian central character, who interacts with other lesbian characters over the course of the book
• the author's knowledge about and respect for book-making and the physical act of writing
• the circus-like moments with unexpected stilt walkers, acrobats, and fire artists
• the over-the-top details in descriptions of the physical realities of Q, the social media company at the novel's center
• family relationships that weren't easy, but that the characters were committed to

What I didn't like—
• the central character's lack of goals and the ways her actions felt like the result of outside influences rather than her own desires
• as noted above, the absolutely baroque piling up of conspiracies and unusual attempts to circumvent those securities
• how quickly the central character's found herself obsessing about sudden infatuations

If you enjoy Dan Brown or similar writers, it's a pretty safe bet that you'll enjoy Forget I Told You This and will find yourself racing through it. I received a free electronic review copy of this title; the opinions are my own.

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3.5 stars
I was drawn to this book by how unique the main character, Amy, and its exploration of the role/importance of the art of the handwritten word in a high digital age sounded and I was mostly satisfied with what it delivered.
The descriptions were flowery in a way that generally worked to create a dream-like feel that I enjoyed. The tech dystopia elements of Q sat neatly on the line between realistic and absurd which made it somehow more true to life. I liked Amy’s struggles of figuring out herself as a middle-aged woman whose life had already come together then fallen apart again. The way both her love of the written word as a calligrapher and her face blindness inform her and the way she views the world as well as her role in the plot was interesting and added a lot of character to the novel.
What brought my enjoyment down a bit was how loosely Amy is tied to the plot. Her involvement is passive and incidental throughout much of it. She sort of wanders away from the central mystery and conspiracy plot to contemplate her life or just because she’s not someone who matters to the plot at that point in the story. At times it could still be engaging but other times I was ready for things to get going again.

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An absolutely brilliant book that will draw you in with each subsequent page, and won't let you go until long after it's done. They say be careful what you wish for, and Amy learns this in the hardest way - leaving her to make a choice - does she follow her dreams, and Q's rules, or side with the vigilantes and take down the tech giant, likely helping the larger world? Zaid did an amazing job of bringing Amy and the world she lives in to life, and the plot moves along at a smooth pace with very few lulls. I loved this, and can't wait to read more by this author!

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I loved the minimalism of the cover, and the highlight of a character in her middle age was just the thing I needed to request this.

A social media conglomerate and the single mother calligrapher conscripted to help destroy it‘s database by a mysterious man.

I wanted to like this. I wanted to like this so much. I loved the concept of a middle aged, queer, single mother artist fighting back against a technological giant. All the descriptions of Amy's art and her love for calligraphy and illustrated texts and the written word were really well done.

But the two thriller and literary genres aren‘t really integrated well together. The changes between really descriptive prose to fast paced, intense scenes was really jarring and pushed me out of the story. And the pacing is all over the place, with moments of action followed by pages upon pages of info dumping.

And our main character is so passive for most of the story. Every time she waffled on something or stopped to complain about her parents, I just wanted her to move back to the plot. I really appreciated having a middle aged protagonist, and I was intrigued by how her face blindness was incorporated into the plot.

But ultimately, I just found myself putting this book down and stepping away too many times.

Thank you to NetGalley and University of Nebraska Press for the opportunity for this arc.

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I’ll be honest: I have no idea how to review this book. I feel like it was written for a very specific group of readers and while I’m one of them, I don’t know if it’s something other people will like.

The best way I can describe this is take the concept of a Dan Brown book, mix in some cyberpunk/technothriller elements, infuse it with poetry, and sprinkle in a niche passion for illuminated manuscripts. Also sapphic romance. It’s a little like the comic series Tokyo Ghost if I had to compare it to anything but it’s very clearly not like anything else.

Basically we have a middle-aged woman mourning the loss of her wife who had uterine cancer and she’s trying to make a living writing letters in a not very distant or far fetched future Bay Area. A massive Facebook/Meta-like company, called Q, is essentially becoming rich off data (so basically a true story) and destroying both human history and culture as well as all sense of privacy and free will. A lot of reviews talk about conspiracy theories and I don’t know if they’re stuck on the name of the company being Q and making references to QAnon or if they honestly think social media companies are harmless.

I loved this and it broke my heart and terrified me all at once. I’m looking for Zaid’s other book now and I look forward to more. Again, though, there’s probably a very small, very specific niche audience that this book will appeal to and I’m part of it but I’m not sure how to go about recommending it. Be forewarned it’s probably not for everyone. I love medieval history, words, and art - and I’m a Luddite who uses technology because it’s there and you kind of have to but I think the world was better off without most of it. So take that as a guide to if it’s your thing.

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The main character is interesting, and the beginning is really intriguing.
However, as the plot develops, it's getting not that interesting.

Thanks NetGalley and the author for an ARC!

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