DARKROOM by Jill Christman


A Family Exposure
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A debut memoir of sexual abuse, bulimia, and other horrors.

Before Christman (English/Ball State Univ.) was born, her 13-month-old brother Ian was badly burned in the shower. Their father, consumed by guilt because he had left the toddler unsupervised, fled the family. When Ian was three, his parents very briefly reconciled, which led to Jill’s birth. Ian’s burning, the memory that defines the Christman family, is “remembered” by all four, even though their mother was away at work and Jill was not yet born. This is an account of remembrance, about memories that cannot be trusted unless they’re verified by snapshots from a family scrapbook or verbally by another person. Christman’s narrative has a dreamlike quality: it doubles back on itself, jumps from past to present, and flaunts the narrator’s unreliability. (“I think I made that up” is a repeated refrain.) Fast-forward to the author at age 19. She’s a straight-A student who can’t stop vomiting and can’t sleep. A campus counselor suggests that bulimia almost always results from sexual abuse and prescribes Prozac. Suddenly the author remembers six years of abuse at the hands of a neighbor. Is the memory true? Remembering that another man was present, she approaches him, and he verifies it. At this point, a fragile Christman becomes involved with her best friend’s brother, seemingly her first healthy relationship. One year later he’s killed in a car crash. The story then switches to the author’s uncle Mark, an alcoholic in and out of trouble with the law. This account is more linear than the first half and relies much less on family photographs. Arrested in Washington State for growing marijuana, Mark is sentenced to ten years in federal prison. Halfway through his prison sentence the author and her mother arrive to visit, only to find that Mark has bled to death, alone in his cell, just hours earlier.

Deft but hardly easy reading. (20 b&w photographs and drawings)

Pub Date: Oct. 14th, 2002
ISBN: 0-8203-2444-2
Page count: 254pp
Publisher: Univ. of Georgia
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2002