Surrealistically graphic memoir of a childhood dominated by a violently abusive father and timid mother.
Though childhood-abuse memoirs are abundant, Anderson’s is distinct in its minute descriptions of the intense physical and psychological torture he endured, which his helpless mother witnessed. Inspired by a letter he received from his mother asking about her and her husband’s parenting faults, Anderson lays out more than 60 specific incidents, most committed by his father. They range from somewhat insensitive (as a teen he was limited to watching only G-rated films) to shockingly violent. These disturbing accounts include house-wrecking wrestling matches, stealing money their son earned at his after-school jobs, threats to stop him from attending public school despite his superior grades, control of all his possessions except a comb, pen and an empty wallet, and rituals of sexual humiliation. One of six siblings in a family ruled by a tyrannical ex-military officer and his second wife, Anderson paints a harrowing portrait of the deleterious effects of dysfunctional parenting. He experienced brief respites when he was allowed to live for weeks with his older brother’s family and the family of his best friend. Both of these households offered to let him complete his adolescence in their loving homes, but Anderson was afraid to accept due to his fear of his father’s wrath. Written as one long accusation, there are tedious stretches where the reader can readily predict the father’s next outrage against his son. Yet Allen provides italicized patches of self-talk steeped in thick irony and sardonic comedy, with scenarios and stock phrases lifted from gangster films or spy thrillers.
Written at a fever pitch, this valuable memoir is not about whining as much as it is about surviving paternal insanity.