Her mother’s death prompts a writer to examine her relationship with her family.
Though having previously relied on her prodigious imagination to create stories to help “make sense of the world,” award-winning novelist Nunez (Fiction Writing/Hunter Coll.; Boundaries, 2011, etc.) here opts to forego fiction’s veil to explore “the real truth, the essential truth” in her first full-length memoir. Called back to her native Trinidad on the occasion of her mother’s death, Nunez loosely frames this probing look at the varying dimensions of her family’s relational dynamics across the four days between returning from New York on hearing of her mother’s passing and her burial. The fog of grief following sudden loss, coupled with heady interactions with her ailing father and gathering siblings, provides a ready backdrop for the author to expound on topics as disparate as Trinidadian history, pedagogy, colonialism, Catholicism and her love for British literature. She also assesses the lasting impact of her parents’ values and relationship with each other on the lives of their 11 children. Nunez analyses the conventions that she feels rooted her “rigidly orthodox” Catholic mother in a 65-year marriage to a loving and accomplished but at times unfaithful husband and her fierce adherence to religious doctrine that resulted in 14 pregnancies and may also have contributed both to her difficulties in openly expressing affection for her children and her encouraging them to travel abroad to seek their fortunes. Taught early on by both parents that “emotions can be dangerous; they can derail you,” Nunez contemplates how this emphasis on emotional reserve may have spawned her and her siblings’ great professional successes alongside a raft of failed marriages, especially when faced with a once-domineering father now diminished by age, widowed and in the early stages of dementia.
An intriguing, sometimes-rambling yet courageous memoir.