SHRAPNEL IN THE SAN FERNANDO VALLEY by Carol  Es

SHRAPNEL IN THE SAN FERNANDO VALLEY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A Los Angeles artist revisits her volatile life as a Scientologist rocker in this debut memoir.

Es grew up moving around the San Fernando Valley, switching neighborhoods on the whims of her unstable mother—a woman suffering from bipolar disorder who was prone to violent outbursts and suicide attempts. The author’s father, relatively more stable, was nonetheless known for brandishing a gun in public. From her preteen years, Es sought companionship in her brother Mike’s pot-smoking garage band. This incited her obsession with drums; introduced her to a relative of John Travolta’s and thus Scientology; and also led to the loss of her virginity, which offers some of the memoir’s most heart-wrenching, affecting passages. By age 15, Es was working for her family’s business but not “exactly” living at home or going to school. This unconventional upbringing, reminiscent of those found in dark and quirky autobiographies like Augusten Burroughs’ Running with Scissors, takes up the book’s first half. But in recounting her adult life, Es truly taps into intriguing self-reflection. She writes of the moderate success that her band, The Extinct, attained by touring with comedian Pauly Shore and of her brainwashing in Scientology. Being “in a band made up of Scientologists? It’s a cult within a cult,” she writes. Even as it became apparent that she had major health issues and had inherited her mother’s mental instability, the author refused to seek care, opting for a Scientologist’s self-reliance. She provides engrossing details about cults, playing with the peculiar vocabulary of Scientology to craft hilarious and terrifying illustrations of people constructing their own realities. (One memorable fight with a boyfriend named Peaches ended with Es screaming “REFUND CYCLE,” apparently violent words considered a “high crime.”) After her break with the church, the author eventually found stability in a new relationship and her art (samples of which are scattered throughout the book) as well as the voice she used to tell her story, which is simultaneously acerbic, warm, and funny.

A captivating account filled with sharp perspectives on mental illness, childhood trauma, Scientology, and art.

Pub Date: April 6th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-73352-088-1
Page count: 537pp
Publisher: Desert Dog Books
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2019