An insightful memoir that traces a teenage girl’s adjustment to her father’s sudden death.
Collins was a teenager growing up in Central Pennsylvania when her “safe and secure” world irrevocably changed. As she recalls in her moving, sharply observed memoir, she had just come home from school when she learned her father had died of a heart attack at the age of 47. “Life without my dad was unimaginable,” she says. Collins recalls how her life evolved after the tragedy, changes made even more difficult by the loss of the family home, a controlling uncle—“suspicion and loathing for him clung to me like moss to tree bark”—and a remote, anguished mother. As a child, Collins obviously wasn’t able to approach her mother’s condition from a clinical perspective; she merely saw a woman with whom she’d desperately like to connect but, in another of the book’s many compelling metaphors, who “resisted speaking of things that bothered her like a clam resisted being opened by a starfish.” In only the first year after her father’s death, she writes, “there had been so many changes….Things I couldn’t foresee; things I couldn’t control.” Finally, one “dark night of winter,” she found her mother sitting silent and alone in their modest apartment, her “crystal blue eyes” having turned “strangely dark—like two black disks void of focus or feeling.” Her mother had packed a suitcase to go to California. “Terror mainlined in my veins,” Collins remembers. Her mother had electroshock treatments in a psychiatric ward, where a nurse unraveled the mystery, telling Collins that she was in a deep depression. The later part of the book, in which Collins describes her college years and a relationship with a student who became her first husband, is less gripping. But as a whole, the memoir is an effective exploration of change and how to come to terms with it. Through all the losses, Collins says, she was “beginning to begin a long process of discernment about how I wanted to handle my life, wherever the river of time would carry me.”
The heart-rending effects of change laid bare.