A potent reflection on emerging from a nomadic youth marked by trauma into an adulthood containing stability and tenderness.
Means’ childhood was punctuated by drives with her mother, journeys between places that were not quite homes and that took them out of and into abusive situations. The author’s devotion to her mother is the centrifugal force of this exceptionally crafted memoir. The author chronicles her mother’s favorite songs, quirks, chain-smoking, and days full of sleep, and she investigates the deleterious effects of her family’s Pentecostal traditions. “The only thing I dreaded more than being alive was going to hell,” writes Means, who writes vividly about “the barn,” which her grandparents built to accommodate their hoarding, and her half brother’s movement in and out of their lives. The author’s recollections of her youth tumble out in a series of artful vignettes, some almost hypnotic, revealing tumultuous relationships, addictions, and abuse just as a child might come to understand them, gradually and in retrospect, rather than immediately or chronologically. The countless blows—physical, psychological, and spiritual—that Means endured at the hands of people (including her mother) who were supposed to care for her are not easy to read about, but her reckoning with both the events and what they mean for her own, emerging identity is honest, graceful, and disarming. “When you can’t tell your own account, can’t exorcize it, it can get stuck inside you,” she writes. As Means brings hazy memories into focus for herself and readers, she constructs a method of thinking about, owning, and releasing her past as well as a fresh way of writing about personal trauma that both acknowledges victimhood and resists the simplicity of sensationalism and pity. This book is an outstanding debut that finds resolution while also leaving plenty of intriguing themes to explore in her future work.
A harrowing and soulful memoir to be read, savored, and reread.