Life Happens to Us: A True Story by Ashta-Deb

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We could not face each other, could not help each other, and could not love each other. The fog of grief and hurt was too thick to see through. It was every man for himself from this moment.

I have read many memoirs that leave me aching for the author, Debbie’s story left a lump in my throat. The death of her beloved older sister Neelam buried on October 9, 1972 at the tender age of 13 was just the beginning of the PTSD that made cause so much emotional destruction throughout her entire life. This is a journey that takes Debbie full circle, putting her sister at rest, and maybe freeing her own soul. It’s the in-between and the before that is so heart-breaking.

With parents that wanted to make more of themselves by being the first in their family to leave Guyana for Canada, Debbie and her sister Neelam and Priya learned quickly how different they were from their light-skinned Canadian peers.  Dreams of starting school as she is a curious child and making many friends dies when Debbie hears the ugly taunts hurled at her sisters and then herself, the racism of the 60’s openly hostile toward anyone foreign. While her mother and father enjoyed the envy and pride that greeted them when the family vacationed in Guyana, the reality of their ‘worldly life’ was a far cry from the wealth and privilege their relatives believed they were leading. Her parents marriage is crumbling, her mother is more attuned to the many male admirers that she seems to leave in her wake than in being a loving, nurturing mother to her attention starved daughters. Cruelties slip easily from her mouth, when she isn’t emasculating her husband she is pointing out her three girls many flaws, like their skin color, or their weight. Never wanting to be called Mom, as she is far too beautiful and young in appearance to be one, she tends to demand Debbie lie and pretend she isn’t her child, better to manipulate whichever man is her current lover.  Family members that come to stay aren’t much help with their own jealousies and deceit. Her father grows enraged with his wife’s philandering and takes his fury out on his daughters, one who can’t survive life under his rule. Debbie is conflicted, far too young to be accountable for witnessing her two sisters beatings, for being daddy’s helper, it takes a toll on her self-esteem. It will take a lifetime to come to terms with the things that she lived through.

Being shuffled between loyalties, homes, family,  and countries until she is completely homeless and at the mercy of strangers, Debbie longs to be nothing like her mother and father when she has her own children.Sadly, we tend to choose what’s familiar, and the bitter toxins of our abuse are patterns we repeat. Debbie finds herself failing as a mother, being too hard on her own children, easily pushed over the edge when she isn’t trying to be the perfect mother and wife. Carrying spouses who once seemed like the perfect love for her, she struggles with her own fidelity issues, stomachs abusive partners mirroring the chaos of her own parent’s disastrous marriage. Her mother and father continue to be unstable forces in her life, going from absentee, to volatile or insulting. Her father isn’t innocent either, degrading and shaming his girls by accusing them of being ‘whores’ like their mother, starting over with a new family, even possibly committing a crime in Canada that forced him to disappear one night. Debbie’s mother doesn’t have a nurturing bone in her body, always siding against her daughter, even when Debbie works hard to be the provider for her family and support her husbands and their dreams.

Debbie sinks into a dark depression, and it is through her spiritual journey that she learns what it means that ‘life happens to us’. We tend to think we are all steering this life we come into, but the reality is there are more things out of our control than under it. For Debbie, it isn’t just the tragic suicide of her sister Neelam, but the loss of Priya too whom, though alive, is unable to be close to her remaining little sister. It is also that she has parents whose own lives have spun so far out of control that all they know how to do is lash out and destroy others, and each other. They are never a family again, not really. She had a few loving family members, like her grandfather whom she shares a sort of  psychic gift with, known as he is to be a sort of magic man. But in her youth, this untapped gift isn’t of much use, where the hope for each day is simply survival and maybe some food for her belly. Debbie will never find what she needs outside of herself, and certainly not through the adults nor any man she may love along the way. Love is transitory in her life, just like her living arrangements seem to be. It is through Western medicine and Eastern Wisdom that she has a chance to heal the wounds in her mind and her soul.

She isn’t always likable, becoming more like her own cold mother at times, and that is how the sad cycle continues. It’s easy to gain spirituality for a day, be it through a retreat, a new love, or mantras, it’s keeping that spirituality intact when life comes at you full force that is the real journey. One thing is true, she has to confront the past in order to be able to shed the pain and rage that lurks within her own being. She has to treat her PTSD and allow herself the grieving that was denied her.

Available Now

FriesenPress

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My Year of Rest and Relaxation: A Novel by Ottessa Moshfegh

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This was the beauty of sleep- reality detached itself and appeared in my mind as casually as a movie or a dream. It was easy to ignore things that didn’t concern me.

Moshfegh is a hell of a writer, I was dazed after reading this novel. I felt like I was sucked into the pit of our narrator’s despair. Finishing this was like stepping out of a pitch dark room into torturous sunlight. Our narrator is seemingly blessed with beauty, a fabulous education, and money which allows her this living death of sorts. Her best friend Reva, oh lord what a complicated relationship these two share. “I was both relieved and irritated when Reva showed up, the way you’d feel if someone interrupted you in the middle of suicide.” Well that grabs your attention!  This is more than just a personal slum she is suffering through and Reva tries to snap her out of it. She loves her friend and doesn’t really like her at the same time. It’s evident why as we get to know them both. There is a jealousy that shivers off Reva, and has never been hidden. Is she satisfied to see her best friend, this ‘effortless beauty’ sink into hibernation? Maybe.

It can come off as self-indulgent, as people who don’t understand depression find such people can. I kept thinking of scenes from Moonstruck when Cher smacks Nicholas Cage and tells him “snap out of it”, a movie twenty somethings likely have no idea what I am talking about.  When she starts seeing Dr. Tuttle, of questionable character, she gets her fill of pills that further fog her mind. This young woman has passed the point of numb, she is much like a barnacle in her bed, clinging to her soured sheets. What caused her to go from behaving much in the same way the other ‘self-important’ go-getters do to this state of arrest.

Truth be told, most people can’t break down like this without far greater disruptions in their life, nor in the lives of others. The rest of us are more likely to go into auto-pilot or the land of grin and bear it until we snap and search for something to fix us, but still have to pry ourselves out the door to earn money. You will absolutely feel clubbed over the head and foggy yourself, not a lot of writers can make you feel their characters depression like this. I was going to write a review ‘in a day’ but left it for weeks! I shouldn’t have laughed at Dr. Tuttle, but what an oddity! It’s far too easy for our dear narrator to get pills she shouldn’t be touching.

Her relationship with Trevor was mostly one where she was available and easily manipulated. Her mother, in a sense, introduced her to hibernation years before. Her hardworking father kicked out of bed with his wife, carrying a cancer inside of him, distant always from his child. “He was kind of non-entity..”, is this early damage what caused a woman with ‘model looks’ to wish to be more a bum then the privileged darling birth made her? Sleep is better than remembering every detail of her life. Her mother went from moments of small affections to “I can’t listen to you now”, and disappearing into phone calls, or baths or Daniel Steal novels. This is a mother who crushed, if she is to be believed, valium into her baby bottle to treat the annoyance of her colic. A mother that doesn’t want a child who is awake and needy.  Someone ‘accountable for nothing”, drunk on alcohol and selfishness. She learned to find solace in the attention girls of lesser beauty gave her, being invisible to her mother and father. Reva is just another admirer she collected, in a way. But can Reva stand to watch her sink, when she herself has very real issues in her own life and needs a friend?

When she isn’t making up symptoms to get stronger drugs, she shares the rotted memories that spring a leak in her mind. Angry that she ‘degraded herself’ with Trevor, the abrupt death of her father who was never really real to her, but able to sleep it out of her system with pills she finds herself doing strange things on the internet in her drugged state, having black outs, she longs for a strong sedative. Do we feel sorry for her,  though irritated with her for her endlessly exhausting self-pity? I still don’t know. People live through worse. That’s the thing, it’s hard to relate to when you aren’t going through it.

Before long she is waking up wondering, what day is it? Where am I? When Reva suffers a loss, she shows up for her friend but needs more support than she gives to the person who is actually in mourning. Maybe she doesn’t have the strength to rally any emotion, having grown up in a joyless home, unable to get close to her parents, maybe she can’t grasp the overwhelming grief of losing loved one . Or maybe this dissociation with reality, this numbed up sleep is grief itself, long overdue. Can you grieve people who you believe never loved you, those you never truly knew? Can you grieve the person you have become or were or the years left to become?

Will she ever return to the world? It ends as it should, and this is by far one of the strangest books I’ve read. I had to step out into the light to get the stink of despair off my skin! You don’t have to be in your twenties to understand how someone can sink, who seems like she has so much more than the rest of the world. Anyone can get stuck in the tar of despair, she was numb before the pills. Is there any one thing that stands out? No, it’s everything that ever happened or ever will, maybe it’s even the assumption most people would feel looking at this beautiful woman imaging her living  a charmed, care-free existence. She is disturbed and stunted, and sleep is her means of escape until it isn’t.

Publication Date: July 10, 2018

Penguin Press

Buzz Books 2018: Spring/Summer by Publishers Lunch Publishers Lunch BUZZ BOOKS

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There are a lot of fantastic reads being published through Spring and Summer. Of the many titles in this list I have reviewed the following.

Motherhood by Sheilia Heti explores the pressing questions surrounding becoming a mother. If one should or shouldn’t, how it changes a woman when she becomes a mother, what it means if she doesn’t. It is a different book depending on the stage of life a woman is in, thinking if I had read it in my twenties, I would have had different feelings. It’s a conversation I think many women have in their own heads. It will be out May 1, 2018

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh is one of the strangest reads I’ve enjoyed this year. I haven’t posted my review yet, but I will say our pretty and privileged narrator has lost will and is simply living in a stagnant state. Is it because she lost her parents and is still grieving? Is it the state of the world? Most of us don’t have the means to curl into hibernation, and if we tried the world would push its way in as it’s want to do. She isn’t even driftwood, she is broken down in a daze of prescription pills. Will she ever wake up?

Tin Man by Sarah Winman which I also am set to review is a heartbreaking ‘almost’ love story. It begins with a boyhood friendship between Ellis and Michael and moves ahead to Ellis mourning the loss of his wife. It is a tale of haunting love, of what may have been, of what was. Many readers have fallen hard for this forthcoming novel, as have I. I absolutely loved “When God Was a Rabbit”.

The debut fiction is fantastic too.

We Own the Sky by Luke Allnut had me choked up. Rob Coates had the perfect life, a beautiful wife and son until a devastating illness. We know he no longer lives with his wife and son, but the why slowly unravels, as painful as pulling a bandage off a festering wound that will never heal. He is lost, everything he loves is gone and it is on weak legs he is trying to make a life worth living again. Get your tissues ready.

This I Know by Eldonna Edwards is another fissure in the heart. Grace Carter is a special child, one that has a gift or if her Evangelical pastor father is to believed a curse that comes from evil. It’s a sin to know things, but how do you ‘unknow’ them? How could intuition be evil, surely if God made her, then he created her with this knowing! She sees the tragic events that will befall her family, but she has good premonitions too. She has a bottomless despair when she loses her twin brother, and yet there is beauty in his otherworldly presence, but when her mother has a breakdown, things descend into hopelessness. Will the people of her small town who are weary of her ever let her in? This is a story I needed, uplifting.

Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage is sure to get under your skin. This is a thriller but more horror for me, I can’t think of anything worse happening and I had mixed feelings about the adults and the mental illness angle, but with that aside it is shocking and definitly a book people will talk about. Bad Seed, Evil, Illness? It’s hard to say. It is well written and I am curious to see what other books Zoje Stage will pen. This was like a crash you don’t want to look at but can’t help yourself. Whatever your feelings you still need to finish it!

There are other titles I haven’t read yet but look forward too. It’s a great season for reading, no doubt!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Life List of Adrian Mandrick: A Novel by Chris White

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There are temptations in this world and there are signposts. This, he does believe. The trick is to distinguish between the two.

How do you distinguish what is true from the wreckage of your childhood memories if you never confront the source of the poison?  Adrian Mandrick is a husband, father and anesthesiologist with a pill problem. When he isn’t escaping his trauma with his bird obsession, he is ruining his marriage and collapsing under the weight of his memories. As a young boy, his estranged father slipped a heavy dose of truth into the loving bubble he lived in with his mother. Everything he felt for her is tainted by this sickening crime she committed, and a gulf opens wide between them until he finds himself out of her life. After she attempts to reach out to him, he ignores her calls and sinks deeper into the drugs that comfort him, and his hunt for elusive birds. This isn’t the first time he abused pills to silence the pain in his body and his heart.

Adrian’s list of birds is a lifelong catalogue, with the death of a ‘legendary birder’ he has the chance to be on top and figures finding a rare ivory bill woodpecker will secure his success. Instead he finds himself stuck in the muck of the Florida panhandle, where his past is lurking and everything he thought he knew about his mother and an incident will be upended. His marriage is spiraling into a dark hole, thanks to his addiction and indiscretion with another woman but it’s the past that is the true beast tainting all he holds dear.

No one knows the painful secret he has allowed to fester, most just see a successful man whose obsession with birds is more than just a hobby. His brother thinks he’s arrogant, ‘too good’ for their mother, his wife feels neglected as his all consuming obsession with birds, his disappearing acts leaves her living like a single mother. Conservation seems hopeless for all the species of birds, but it’s his mind and family that need saving. He loves his children, believes they deserve to enjoy the bounty of youth, the careless happiness he himself never had. But it’s getting harder and harder be around them when he is sinking in his screaming thoughts and drug induced fogs. Though Stella attempts to confront him, he has excuses at the ready to brush her off. Then there is the mother he is avoiding, he once loved his mother with all of his being too, ‘She was his mother, his life raft, his home. How can this be turned upside down, flooded, ruined,’ until he couldn’t anymore.  How could resentment, anger become so vile as to destroy a child?

How long has Adrian’s emotional absence been brewing? Just how much do we really keep for ourselves, how much can one keep hidden from our loved ones without being swallowed whole, without losing them? How much can we hide from ourselves? He is about to find out. Through birdwatching and drugs Adrian is disappearing, he is tortured by the past and self-medicating as to cease feeling anything at all. It’s interesting to think he haunts himself, that memories from our childhood are easy to muddy in careless hands. It’s hard to make my point without giving away secrets, but the saddest thing of all is that other people can sever bonds between people and change the trajectory of an entire life. How much of the present do we give to the past?

Available Now

Touchstone

 

Love and Ruin: A Novel Paula McLain

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And yet here we were, anyway, hurtling through the dark toward each other under a hundred million stars, and set to collide disastrously. Logic wouldn’t save us and neither would the dwindling pile of days. We had all the time in the world to make a terrible mistake.

Ernest Hemingway was stormy weather, why should a love affair with the man be any less tumultuous. This is a gorgeous story about Hemmingway and his lover and third wife Martha Gellhorn. She knows falling in love with the married father of two sons will spell disaster and yet it is inevitable, their mutual need undeniable. At the beginning of the novel, Marty is a disappointment to her father, living a little too carefree for the times. Passionate about a literary career, and certainly not one to settle down and live the life of the ‘little woman’, her writing comes off as vulgar to her father who shames her. A distance opens between them, if war is a shadow so is the shame that remains in her heart after her father’s death. Martha travels to Madrid to write about the Civil War, at great risk to herself, and is moved by the horrors and struggle of the people. Ernest falls in love not just with her youth and beauty but her hunger and courage to the cause.

Hemingway and his women often leave a sour taste in the mouths of wiser ladies, but it’s not hard to imagine how someone as brilliant as Gellhorn could fall under the spell of her idol. She was in awe of him when they met, already a fan and when his attention turns to her, well she caved. It’s not hard to think of his long-suffering wife Pauline Pfeiffer with compassion, birthing his children, steering Ernest as well as only the best of women could and then left for someone younger. She too was a journalist when she met Ernest, and its interestig to note while she supported Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War, he supported the Republicans. A point of contention? Hemmingway needed his woman to understand his passions, to support his causes and Gellhorn was on his side, using the might of her words to bring attention to the suffering. She is born to passion in his embrace, but she notices the early warning signs about Ernest, the weather within him, the resentment and sulking, over exaggerated anger when he isn’t getting his own way.

Martha was a bold woman, meeting Ernest opened doors, it cannot be denied, but she had to claw her way to write as a woman during the war. Suffering the dismissal of critics simply for being tied to him and their forbidden love, she was blasted in reviews. Ernest wasn’t her sole passion, she traveled all over the world to write about pressing issues as a great war correspondent, writing on every conflict during her long career. She was unorthodox, an original and if you detest her for stealing a married Hemingway then she redeems herself by choosing her work rather than giving in to his demands that she be still, anchor herself where he wills her. If it meant being punished for her comings and goings, so be it. She dared to leave Ernest, and there is no return to love after that. Everything in Hemingway’s life is beautiful so long as his career is flourishing and Martha is there when he needs her. Ernest was a connoisseur of women, that’s no secret but he was also tortured, and one always wonders how someone tries to fill themselves to quiet the noise in their own mind. He surrounded himself with exciting people, most alive in dangerous situations (an adrenaline junkie?) had a bottomless need for adventure and yet at times his mood would turn and he’d close up into himself. Could he have loved more than one woman, or the ideal of her, why not? It’s his staying power that is questionable. His family certainly has struggles with mental illness, and there is so much conflicting information out there, was he bipolar, or was it possibly head traumas that one thing is certain, he had inner battles and how could that not have been a source of trouble in his love life? Maybe turning to fresh new love was running away as much as his escape to Key West or wherever he went to get away from his family.

At the start of their affair, Martha desperately needs his approval. It was a ‘wonderful and awful’ love. In the raw days, she is of use, she fits in with the people who surround Hemingway and even in the moments when she feels small, and monstrous things are happening around her, this is still the life she would never trade. “I had said yes. And yes always came with a price.” Even if he belonged to someone else, she could not let him go. She is as hooked as the many fish he catches. When they are away from the madness of the world, in Cuba (their own little heaven), the days seem to stretch before them in this paradise. But time will feast on the lovers, as it does us all, and the world won’t be kept at bay. When Time magazine takes a bite out of Martha, diminishing her success Ernest is concerned only with himself. It is the beginning of their love souring, it is as if he must eclipse all those who love him and she is no exception.

Martha went on to have a full, rich life as a war correspondent after her marriage to Ernest. If you’ve read anything about Gellhorn, she is quoted as saying feminists “did a disservice to women branding us as ‘women writers’.” Her argument being, no one says ‘men writers’ about material written by men and yet she was a trailblazer, herself a woman working in a field dominated by men in the 20th century, and it cannot be ignored that the war zones weren’t exactly teeming with women. She lived her life as she wanted it, known to be a prickly, irritable person, intolerant of ‘bores’, a fighter for humanity and yet not a great lover of people individually. A private person. She was so much more than just ‘Hemingway’s lover.’ This is a woman who stowed away on a hospital ship to come ashore on D-Day, how is that for feminism? If Hemingway was her idol in her youth, she outgrew him.

We’re not supposed to care much for the ‘other woman’, are we? The funny thing is, I cared more about her than her idol (Ernest). Anyone could see that Martha and Ernest’s paradise wouldn’t last, because his heart was fickle, he had his own demons within’, his need was all consuming and she was becoming a woman who would not be confined by love anymore than society’s expectations. Was it her awe of him, the war raging around them, or selfish desires that pushed them together, who can say? It was passionate while it lasted, and they loved each other enough to marry, he took Martha as his wife 3 weeks after his divorce from Pffiefer was final. Martha was a woman who could never be happy with a diluted life. That she should choose between Ernest and a career was the end of it all. Love that wants to swallow a woman, make her forget her outside interests and dreams was not a love for Martha. Yet, when they first collide and love explodes it sets them afire, for a time.

Paula McLain wrote a beautiful love story not just about Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn’s affair and marriage, but a love for one woman’s purpose in life that eventually surpassed what she shared with Hemmingway. Yes, read it!

Publication Date: May 1, 2018

Random House

Ballantine

 

 

 

West: A Novel by Carys Davies

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“Regard him, Bess, this person, this fool, my brother, John Cyrus Bellman, for you will not claps eyes upon a greater one. From today I am numbering him among the lost and the mad. Do not expect that you will see him again, and do not wave, it will only encourage him and make him think he deserves your good wishes. Come inside now, child, close the door, and forget him.”

The fancies of men and the hardship of women they leave behind hits you between the eyes in this short novel. Cy Bellman reads about ‘colossal ancient bones discovered in the salty Kentucky mud’ and longs to discover the living creature. Because in this great, vast land there could very well be such a creature hidden. He decides to leave his sister Julie in charge of his young daughter, Bess. A widowed man, she believes, would do better to find another wife not run off on lunatic adventures. But his mind is stubborn as the mules he makes a living breeding. He is on fire with the idea of the creature and his possible discovery, it eclipses the reality of his daughter left behind with worthless animals, men sniffing around in this hungry place, and unprotected as she is becoming a young woman that before long inspires the attention of men.

Is it the grief that turned his mind to such a wild idea, so consuming he closes out the dangers he puts his little girl in? Julie’s aunt is unlikable, and pushy. Bess’s days are swallowed up with boredom, particularly listening to her aunts complaints or her scoldings about her unchristian behavior. Then there is Elmer, who seems to be making himself ‘at home’ with Aunt Julie. He has his own ideas, and Aunt Julie seems to be under the spell of his attention, shocking that her tightly wound, cold aunt could desire a man! I chose the particular excerpt above because it speaks volumes of the sort of woman her Aunt is. No nonsense, blunt to the point of cruelty. I have a different feeling about her though too, who would be all sugar and spice and everything nice in harsh times, especially when one isn’t born with beauty or wealth? At the mercy of a man’s whims, be he your husband, father, brother- or worse, any man that decides he sees something worth taking.

The story goes back and forth between Bess and Julie’s struggles and Cy’s wanderings in a harsh landscape he may well have underestimated. To think he could be gone two years, or if Aunt Julie is to be believed, forever forces Bess into hopeless lonely days. There are threats just as dangerous as the wilds her father faces that Bess will have to confront. Will her father survive his mad search for a rumored creature, will she?

Atmospheric and depressing, it is well written and takes the reader back in time. I enjoyed it, I wonder how much more interesting it would have been had it been longer. It kept my attention, but I think I wanted more time with Bess.

Publication Date: April 24, 2018

Scribner

Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir by Jean Guerrero

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Brains are mystical. They perform alchemy in a place no one can measure. Yet the stories they yield exert as obvious an effect as gravity. 

Jean Guerrero’s father was elusive, misunderstood by himself as much as the rest of the people who orbited his life. Born in Mexico, later migrating to California, it is a cross border memoir of not just his physical existence, but of his mind as reality crosses myth. This is a crushingly raw, beautiful love story, in a sense, between father and daughter. “I’m sorry, Papi. Perdóname. I know how much you hate to be pursued. You’ve spent your whole life running. Now the footsteps chasing you are mine.”  Marcos owns his own reality of who he was, but who he became is at odds with it.  Incredibly gifted with all things mechanical, he houses a brilliant mind that is haunted by his mental illness, if everything he claims isn’t true. As he traveled the world and neglected his family, is it really possible that the CIA was performing experiments on him, or was this just a spiral into madness, extreme paranoia? Jean is on a mission to find her father, to understand who he is and to understand his splintered mind. Of course, one must start at the beginning. Her father is much like a mythical being. When he explains about real mind-control experiments that occurred in the 1950’s, it’s harder for Jean to dismiss the possibility of what he is telling her.

When her parents met, it was as if fate brought them together. Her beautiful mother was a Puerto Rican medical student, her father an magnetic man, his body fit from physical labor, a perfectionist in his welding. In his free time a voracious reader, nothing more important to him than stuffing everything he could fit into his hungry mind, Jeannette is like a gift from the universe, an equally curious mind, a twin soul! He lended his intelligence and strong English-speaking to his step father’s business, overseeing things, despite prior issues between them, past abuses. When he met the beautiful Jeannette, he knew she was the one. It wasn’t long before their love was cracking under the strain of his suspicious nature, there were signs early on of his illness. Yet, life went on as it does and warnings at the time were easy to dismiss as Jeannette had her career and a family to raise. Jean is born, “Fatherhood gushed purpose through his veins like a drug, but it wouldn’t be enough to tame her father. As her mother becomes a popular physician it seems Marco is healed by the birth of their child. Another child, her sister is born in 1989, they move into a home but then there is a betrayal by his half-sister, Amy involving  the family business he worked so hard to make a success. Marco breaks, despite his wife’s attempts to interest him in other endeavours. Soon, he is no longer the doting father. Unable to find his own purpose, he begins to resent his wife’s success, to feel emasculated and begins to use prostitutes, then gets obsessed with creating a garden but like everything else, once he has exhausted his passions, he collapses into himself. His adoration turns to contempt for his daughter, family. Life darkens, and his angry eruptions lead her mother to kick him out by the time Jean is 6. So begins the disappearing of her father.  With her medical knowledge, Jean’s mother knows it has to be ‘schizophrenia.’ Drug usage, escape through travel, her father is no longer the loving Papi who used to film his family’s every precious moment, in his own creative vision.

His absence is a wound, a dark hole she will spend years trying to fill, even emulating her dad, wondering if she too is suffering his affliction. She becomes a journalist, and this is the skill she will use to excavate her father and his family history, one rich with mystics, such as her grandmother who may have been a healer, or a witch. Exploring the madness, myths and truths of her father and his past she wants to regain possession of the man he once was, to atone in a sense for the wrongs he committed, to salvage the cracks in his mind and discover if there is truth in his ravings. What caused the split in his thinking, what are the voices he hears, where are the really coming from? This has been the year of beautiful, raw memoirs and Crux is another gem. How do we measure ourselves and each other, how do we steady ourselves as life, the world rushes us? How does a child come to terms with the embarrassment, resentment, fear, love, hope and cope with the crushing weight of loving someone who is a phantom? How can Jean extract the traces of poisonous anger she feels towards her Papi? In order to understand Marco, she has to enter the realm of his reality, to honor him by turning away from the protestations of logic and give his vision a voice. I was deeply moved by the idea, because the minute someone is labeled with mental illness or a disability of any sort, people dismiss their humanity. Everything they think and say is suddenly suspect, or without merit. Why do we do that? Is it some sort of deflection, self-preservation? The thought process seems to be,  “if I can see the sense in something that ‘crazy person’ says than I am not of sound mind”, there is cruelty in that, isn’t there? It robs people of their humanity. It’s easier to make them a non-person, isn’t it? Until that changes, we will never understand how to move forward, never be able to help people heal.

The American way is to trust in logic and science, to scoff at all things mystical or spiritual. Her father’s culture marries religion and superstition, with its beautiful myths and history. How is a man between two worlds meant to anchor himself in life? How is his daughter Jean meant to make sense of her own existence, to plant herself, make roots that honor both cultures and to make peace with her father? This is a fascinating journey, a gut wrenching memoir that manages to reach for light, hope. It is one of the most unusual memoirs I’ve read in years. Yes, add it to your TBR list.

Publication Date: July 17, 2018

Random House Publishing

One World