KOOKOOLAND by Gloria Norris


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An independent film producer’s story of how she grew up dominated by her charismatic, troubled father but managed to break free of his influence.

Norris' hard-living Greek-American father, Jimmy, was larger than life. A fisherman, hunter, and racetrack gambler fascinated by violence, he often took the family to see slasher movies at the local drive-in. There, he playfully scared his daughter by transforming his hand into what she called “the Hairy Claw.” But Norris knew better. “I had seen that hand rip out the still-warm guts of dead animals ten times my size,” writes the author. Jimmy often humiliated Norris, her mother, and sister with his misogynistic comments and behavior, but the author loved her father and identified with him to the point where her colorful, slangy English was virtually indistinguishable from what Jimmy used. At the same time, she also found herself longing to be like her friend Susan, a beautiful and talented rich girl who was “really going places” and whom even Jimmy could not fault. Then Susan’s father murdered her mother, and her mother’s lover and Susan descended into personal chaos. At the same time, the Norris household began to unravel as Jimmy became more erratic and eventually threatened to kill his own long-suffering wife. The author escaped by becoming the only member of her working-class family to go to college, where she immersed herself in the filmmaking that became her life's work. Away from her home and the father who terrorized it, Norris finally began the slow process of learning how to remove the words that her father put into her mouth “like a ventriloquist.” By turns heartbreaking and darkly humorous, the book not only offers a compelling yet comic portrayal of a fraught father-daughter relationship. Norris also reveals the way violence can become a self-replicating cancer within families.

An intelligent and bracing memoir.

Pub Date: Jan. 5th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-941393-60-4
Page count: 356pp
Publisher: Regan Arts
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2015


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