A writer goes for a winding walk down memory lane in this debut memoir.
After 30 years as a successful psychotherapist, Wolleson turns a critical eye on her own past, recognizing both continuity and chaos. A small, blue-collar Oregon town was the backdrop of a mostly happy childhood, where her absent fisherman father and caring but reserved mother raised their three daughters. Despite this relative stability, the author recalls an early and continuous struggle to maintain a solid sense of self, explaining, “I was a frightened, empty person who made myself up as I went along.” Her post-high school life in California coincided with the 1960s and ’70s, where the book takes a sharp turn to recount episodes of LSD trips, communes, nudity, and exotic vacations. Various relationships crop up, ranging from funny to romantic to violent, but all share a marked ambivalence in the telling. Wolleson characterizes this period as unanchored and impulsive, admitting, “I have a secret resumé no prospective employer ever saw, listing the nineteen jobs I had in twenty years between college and graduate school.” After attending many types of therapy, she realized that her passion lay in guiding others through their own psychological growth and healing, and she dedicated years of work to eventually opening her own therapy practice. The book’s final section features musings on the author’s present life, with an emphasis on aging (in body, if not in mind). The memoir feels like sitting down for coffee with a bubbly old friend whose storytelling flits around, only briefly landing on any single anecdote. This allows for paradoxical layers to the writing: an open, confessional quality, but also a reticence that creeps in at important moments; memory that’s alternately thorough and patchy; and the shadow of the present frequently clouding descriptions of the past. In short, Wolleson’s book exemplifies both the charm and frustration inherent in the genre. More emphasis on connecting threads would provide the artfulness and sustained reflection that are lacking here, but the fragmentary nature also feels true to life.
A colorful and warm, if somewhat ragged, series of personal vignettes.