An impressive debut memoir of grief and growing up.
In 1984, when the author was only 15, her 18-year-old brother Roy was burned to death in an automobile crash. Her struggle to come to terms with this loss and find her way again is recounted here with a clear eye and astonishing frankness. Smith’s parents were staunch Catholics; not to believe in the existence of God, she writes, would have been like not believing in “oatmeal, or motorcars, or the laws of gravity.” With her brother’s death, Alison’s faith suddenly vanished, to be replaced by study and reading. If only she could understand how space, time, light, and movement were linked in the fourth dimension, she believed, Roy would come back to her. Smith’s parents, however, clung to their faith; her father still blessed her each morning with a holy relic to keep her safe. The author’s observations of her parents’ reaction to the loss of their only son are marked by a cool objectivity and filled with telling detail. Inexplicably, they seemed to be unaware that their grief-stricken remaining child was starving herself and wandering outside at all hours of the night. Smith’s mother, it seems, was an expert at rewriting the past and pretending that unwanted events did not actually happen. At Sisters of Mercy High School, the nuns overlooked Alison’s strange or out-of-line behaviors. When she fell in love with another girl and the two of them were discovered in bed together, only her companion’s reputation suffered. The nuns and her classmates saw Smith as “the girl whose brother died,” more to be pitied than censured. For months before the third anniversary of Roy’s death, the tagalong little sister, now 18 and not wanting to surpass her big brother, planned to reenact the accident, following him into death. Her attempt failed, her appetite for life returned, and Roy finally became a ghost figure for Alison, if not for her parents.
Powerful, unsentimental, candid, and moving.