A family court judge struggles to come to terms with her tumultuous childhood.
After a visit from her brother Eric, it became clear to English that dark questions from their childhood in Utah still haunted her: “How could I exorcise my mother yet carry her still? How had I deeply loved a monstrous father... [and] why did I seem successful as an adult and yet feel so utterly lost?” Eric soon arranged for a return to Salt Lake City to confront their parents and the Mormon Church. As a narrative device, this setup provides a compelling and even suspenseful structure to English’s debut memoir. Stories unfold within stories as these two adults attempt to revisit houses and family, reconnect with each other, and confess their darkest secrets. Memories of their parents’ bitter battles over money and religion expand thoughtfully into family mythologies of early pioneers and settlers. English traces her own personality back to these family memories and her poetic descriptions of the Utah mountains and their “geology of fear.” She also examines the ripple effects of sexism, racism, and homophobia within a church she tried to challenge but soon fled. The answers Eric and English sought were never easy; the violent, alcoholic mother they remember was also the first to stand up for equality against her wealthy parents. But even more complicated is English’s disturbing relationship with her father. The author is fearless in revisiting incredibly difficult moments, moving effortlessly between perspectives of the detached judge and the naive young girl mistakenly confident in a father’s love. English crafts passages that are truly shocking and difficult to read, but then pushes them even further by using them to explain her own views on family law as a judge. She makes many arguments about the system and her experiences, some thought-provoking and some inevitably controversial. But like all the stories contained in her memoir, they are consistently well constructed and seem necessary for her personal salvation.
A devastating and intelligently told story of siblings searching for answers that reveals how a family can be torn apart by history, intolerance, and abuse.