A personal history of overcoming poverty, neglect, and a parent’s mental illness.
Ketterman’s debut memoir begins with a biblical quote: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” In the first narrative scene, adult Ketterman experiences a religious awakening in the church led by her godfather, Pastor Johnny, who “moved in the gift of prophecy”; she collapses, limp, onto the floor. “Leave her alone,” cautions Pastor Johnny. “God has begun a deep healing within her….Glory, glory, glory!” And so the book’s audience is thus delimited: it’s for people who believe in the healing power of faith. Ketterman takes care to articulate her spiritual experiences as qualitatively different from the religious delusions suffered by her mother, who was ultimately diagnosed with a schizoaffective disorder, and also from the mental impairments of her father, who died of a brain tumor when she was just a teenager. She effectively outlines the difficulties of growing up in such an unwell environment—the social stigma, the poverty, the abuse and neglect, the necessity of acting as parent not only to herself but to her younger brother and sister. But Ketterman, a curriculum designer who was named teacher of the year, writes like the administrator and educator she is, rather than as a novelist. Despite chapter headers that ooze with pathos—“My Mother’s Declaration: Relief, Guilt, Shame, and Regret”—she doesn’t dig deeply into her or anyone else’s emotions. It’s irrefutable that she shouldered burdens and responsibilities no child should have to bear, but that constantly reinforced theme ultimately feels one-dimensional, and the many examples of how she overcame those hardships begin to read more like a resume than a memoir. In the final chapter, Ketterman reveals that this book evolved, in part, out of a 12-step recovery program, that it is her “testimony.” The book’s cathartic, self-focused tone, then, is completely in line with its function as part of the author’s therapy; toward that purpose, it succeeds.
Could be a useful and sympathetic model for others who are integrating writing into therapy.