A debut coming-of-age autobiography chronicles personal ancestry and familial struggle.
In the first of author and speechwriter Lieberman’s two-part history—a massively researched endeavor 18 years in the making—she unveils the genesis of her family life through heartfelt prose and generous photographs. The book’s title is derived from the autonomy the author strived to achieve in order to feel wholly at peace with what she calls a shameful family secret: her mother Margaret’s lifelong struggle with paranoid schizophrenia. Life became challenging early on as the daughter of an atheist father and a mother who heard the “voices of a god and a devil.” Lieberman diligently retraces her parents’ individual histories, reaching back to her mother’s birth to a Mormon family in Utah and the blind date that would seal her romantic fate with the author’s father, Frank. Though the marriage of a Mormon-raised daughter to a gentile raised eyebrows in Salt Lake City, their union produced the author, the surviving female twin from a complicated pregnancy (her brother died in childbirth). Years later, her mother began hearing demonic voices that incapacitated her, while Lieberman found supreme solace in the safe havens of next-door neighbor Marlene Evans, the Mormon Church, and her Aunt Mary’s home. In sharing cherished anecdotes and resonant memories, the author effectively exorcises the demons of a youth spent searching for answers and knowing “my mother was both dangerous and deeply disturbed.” As the author learned lessons about death, money, driving, and jealousy, a stint abroad helped her mature into a woman capable of love and motherhood even as the Vietnam War raged on and the irrational fear that she would develop schizophrenia loomed. Lieberman rightfully labels schizophrenia as an incurable “human disaster.” As a child, her mother’s paranoid hallucinations of “invisible demons” were random and frightening, and Lieberman’s portrayal of Margaret’s further descent is palpably disturbing and sorrowful. Yet it also presents the author as an increasingly formidable and resilient woman able to withstand the sadness of her mother’s illness with the fortitude of a well-adjusted adult. Her poignant, painstakingly detailed journey is both exhaustive and intimately personal.
A searingly honest chronicle of motherhood and mental illness drawn from the bittersweet memories of a daughter.