A woman tells of an unstable childhood, an abusive marriage, and years of emotional recovery in this debut memoir.
Aiken-Hall writes that she was born into chaos: as her mother, Wendy, gave birth to her in 1981, police escorted her unstable father, Ralph, from the hospital for harassing a nurse. Due to severe depression, alcohol use, and affairs with cruel men, Aiken-Hall says, her mother couldn’t provide a stable home, and it fell to the author’s maternal grandmother, known as “Gram,” to provide love and comfort. Wendy and Ralph soon resumed their relationship after Aiken-Hall’s birth, she says, but the two split again after Wendy had an affair and Ralph threatened to murder the whole family. The author writes that Wendy then moved in with a new partner who molested her while her mother watched; Ralph, already ill from paranoid schizophrenia and a genetic disorder, died after a construction-related accident. Aiken-Hall struggled with feelings of shame, confusion, and grief, which she says were only endurable due to Gram’s much-needed unconditional love. After a string of failed teenage romances and an emotional affair with a co-worker, Aiken-Hall says that she became ensnared by an abusive man who coerced her into sex and demanded her hand in marriage after she became pregnant. Aiken-Hall had three children with him and weathered the loss of Gram while gradually moving toward change and healing. Aiken-Hall’s insights in this memoir can be striking at times; she writes movingly, for instance, about how she returned to abusive situations because she’d always craved affection, and about her terrifying youthful realization that Gram would inevitably die, depriving her of her only source of love. But readers may wish that there were deeper reflections about her relationships with specific family members. Most prominently, Aiken-Hall’s mother, despite being mentioned in the book’s title, remains an elusive and mostly undefined figure, beyond her parenting failures. As a result, a climactic moment when the author forgives her mother lacks impact.
A memoir of a grueling upbringing captures the author’s misery and hope but might have benefited from more robust examinations of key relationships.