A memoir soaked in divorce, alcoholism, failed suicide attempts, but also hope.
Growing up in North Dakota, Minnesota and Portland, Ore., the author is the second of five children. Shy and sensitive, she cowers in school, terrified of drawing attention to herself. She’s ashamed of her family’s grinding poverty and fearful of her abusive, alcoholic father. Contrasted with this grim existence are Loehr’s wonderfully rendered reminisces of weeklong summer visits to her grandparents, where she picks raspberries, buys penny candy and plays dress up with “Grandma’s old dresses and hats and purses and high heels.” But life at home grows more chaotic when her father abandons the family for another woman and refuses to pay child support. While her mother works, attempting to support a family of six, the author, then 14, and her sister sneak out and get drunk. At 18, Loehr gets pregnant, fails at attempts to abort her own baby and resigns to marry Dane, the baby’s father. The next few years include having two more children and trying to keep a shaky marriage together with her abusive, alcoholic husband while riding a financial roller coaster of great success followed by crashing bankruptcy. Loehr drinks heavily and grows increasingly unhappy. Dane leaves her, and she finds herself incapacitated, lost in a maelstrom of wrenching depression, exhaustion and even a hospital stay with a team of doctors trying to cure her. At rock bottom, she concocts a list of ways to commit suicide: She tries to overdose on pills but is rushed to the hospital; next, she tries to electrocute herself but fails. The third attempt, with a gun, leaves her severely maimed. But at this point, she gains the will to live. From there, it’s a gutsy walk down an agonizing road marked by physical recovery and, through AA, a spiritual recovery. What follows is well-described personal success, years of sobriety, a true sense of self, and finally, deservedly, the ability to reflect upon and marvel at her accomplishments. The narrative flows smoothly, but there are times when complicated situations seem to beg for more sophisticated writing. However, much of the book’s appeal lies in its simplicity, and many of its stronger moments are those captured with clear, simple sensory details: “The memory scent of color crayons and old hymnals washes over me,” she writes. Her total, awful desperation is captured here, alive but fortunately caged in the past.
A brutally honest light shone on dark depths.